Land-use and the conservation of Sharpe's Longclaw Macronyx sharpei in central Kenya
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
Bird conservation international
, p. 107-121
University of Antwerp
The highland grasslands of central Kenya hold a suite of restricted-range bird species, including several of global conservation concern. These grasslands occur almost entirely on private land with no formal protection, and have received little conservation attention. This paper describes land-use change on the Kinangop Plateau, Kenya, and considers the implications for grassland bird species, especially Sharpe's Longclaw Macronyx sharpei. The Kinangop Plateau is an area of montane grassland east of the Rift Valley, used primarily for dairy farming since human settlement in 1964. However, dairy farming (which retains grassland as pasture) has given way to other forms of land-use, especially cultivation of crops. In March 1996, a questionnaire was administered to 50 landowners to investigate community attitudes towards birds and their conservation, the extent of present land-use changes and likely future land-use patterns, The mean acreage of landholding was decreasing, and more grassland was rapidly being converted into cultivated land, with 3.2% being ploughed up during the six months from November 1995 to May 1996. Farmers expressed a preference for crop farming (66%) over livestock farming (26%) or other land uses. Thirty-two per cent expressed a positive attitude, and 60% were indifferent, towards birds. Most (76%) were not aware of biodiversity values or conservation. Though 64% were aware of declining bird populations around them, 82% of this group did not realize that their activities might be contributing to this decline. Sixty-eight per cent of landowners planned to convert all or part of their grassland holdings. Although landowners' interests seemed generally incompatible with grassland conservation, a substantial proportion (44%) were prepared to consider opportunities to enhance the area's conservation value. An informal follow-up survey in March 1999 concluded that prospects for the dairy industry and for grassland habitats on Kinangop were not as bleak as the initial survey suggested, but confirmed the delicate conservation status of Sharpe's Longclaw and its habitat. We suggest a variety of actions that might help to secure the future of Sharpe's Longclaw while promoting sustainable agricultural development on Kinangop, and propose several topics where further research is needed. Species such as Sharpe's Longclaw will only survive if we can develop ways of managing their habitats in a manner that is consistent, rather than in conflict, with the needs of the agricultural community.