Firstly, setting up of these islands necessitated holding of Community awareness programs and focus group discussions on how these restoration grass islands would be of benefit to the local community in the long run. This were held with the help of the area administration and the committee members for Bura East Conservancy. Going by the number of people who showed up to help us manually clear the invasive trees, we can bravely state that these discussions bore some fruit.
Secondly, we had to identify areas where setting up of these islands would have the most impact on the hirola populations and other grazers. For this we had to get an input from the community elders. This is because the community elders best understand the wildlife behavior of wild animals in this area. Another reason as to why we deemed it fit for the elders to select the sites, was because of the land ownership regimes within the North eastern region of Kenya, which identifies the community elders as the custodians of the community lands in trust of the other community members.
Once the sites were selected, the islands were demarcated and the process of manually removing the invasive tree species began. This was done using machetes and axes. These tools did come in handy in most of the clearing, though in some areas we did have trouble clearing due to the high density of tree cover. In such areas, we had to set a few burning coals onto the trunks of these trees and fire would do the rest. In spite of these mishaps the locals are more than willing to see this project to fruition.
Clearing of these six islands has been ongoing for the past two months and out of the six islands, three have been fully cleared and seeding of two of the three islands has already been completed.
In as much as we are having some success in this habitat restoration endeavor, we are also having our fair share of disappointments, frustrations and challenges. Some of the challenges we are encountering at the moment is the apathy among some of the locals who don’t seem to know or care about the protection of these native grasses that we are planting within the islands or restoration as a whole. In order to mitigate these challenges more awareness meetings need to be held so as to build more public support and political will. Without this support, it will be difficult to maintain and develop the businesses that will support the restoration efforts i.e. native seed harvesting. The absence of this support reminds us of how fragile the field of restoration is, considering its dependence on voluntary work by the locals.