Vital wetlands lessons for Children

Children learning how to identify acquatic life.

Children learning how to identify acquatic life.

Published Feb 12, 2024


Around 160 children visited the Colbyn Wetland Nature Reserve in Pretoria earlier this month to learn about wetlands and why we need to restore and protect them.

This annual event, held to celebrate World Wetlands Day, was hosted by the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa-affiliated Friends of Colbyn Valley and the Agricultural Research Council’s Institute for Soil, Climate and Water.

They were this year assisted by the South African Wetland Society, Southern African Young Geomorphologists, Youth Engaged in Wetlands and BirdLife Northern Gauteng, and sponsored by Ocean Breeze Food Merchants.

A number of environmental professionals and students volunteered as leaders and facilitators at the event, including, among others, specialists from the Agricultural Research Council, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, the Department of Water and Sanitation, as well as the University of Pretoria.

The event was aimed at children aged eight to 13, drawn from various school and youth groups across the city.

Children aged between eight and 13 went on a wetlands walk in Colbyn to learn more about the wetlands

The day’s activities were designed to create awareness about the value of wetlands, how they are formed, how they function and how to protect them.

The children were taken on a wetland discovery walk, where they learnt about the soils and plants that indicate the presence of wetlands. They also built a simple model to show how wetlands work and taught how to become “citizen scientists” by performing a mini stream assessment scoring system to classify the water quality of a stream based on the kinds of invertebrates that they found living there.

The children also competed in a quiz to test their knowledge on wetlands.

Dr Piet-Louis Grundling, who has been involved in wetland conservation activities in the Colbyn Valley Wetland since the late 1990’s, said: “When we engage with children from a young age on environmental matters we foster a love and passion for the earth – we should not underestimate their ability to make environmental matters their own.”

He added that like wetlands they are sponges soaking up fundamental concepts on environmental conservation and they become the agents of positive change at home, at school and in society.

Wetlands are important areas for supporting bird diversity, and the day kicked off with the chance for some extreme-close-up birding. The bird ringers from BirdLife Northern Gauteng set their mist nets in the reserve before dawn, allowing visitors to see how the birds are caught, measured, ringed and released. The children were also taught how the practice of bird ringing contributes to avian science and conservation.

February 2 is celebrated across the globe as World Wetlands Day, and marks the anniversary of the adoption of the 1971 Convention on Wetlands (also known as the Ramsar Convention). The theme for World Wetlands Day this year is “Wetlands and Human Wellbeing”, which aims to highlight how interconnected wetlands and human life are, with people drawing sustenance, inspiration and resilience from these productive ecosystems.

Ig Viljoen of BirdLife Northern Gauteng ringing group at work.

Nearly 90% of the world’s wetlands have been degraded since the 1700’s, and we are losing wetlands three times faster than forests. Yet wetlands are critically important ecosystems that contribute to biodiversity, climate mitigation and adaptation, and freshwater availability.

Friends of Colbyn Valley said there is an urgent need to create more awareness about wetlands in order to reverse their rapid loss and encourage actions to conserve and restore them.

The Colbyn Valley Wetland is situated in the heart of Pretoria. Though it is vulnerable to a number of impacts due to its urban location, it remains a valuable biodiversity and water resource, as well as offering residents an unique educational and recreational site.

In particular, the Colbyn Valley Wetland includes areas of peat, a relatively rare occurrence in South African wetlands. The wetland is conserved within the Colbyn Wetland Nature Reserve, proclaimed in June 2014 and managed by the City of Tshwane.

Pretoria News