The main seasons in our part of the world are only two: wet season and dry season. But prolonged drought over much of the country has erased that distinction into one long dry bleakness where rain of any significance is a memory or a hope.
There is nothing like a dry and unusually hot winter and the fear that spring will not bring needed rain to make me more mindful of water than would be the case in kinder circumstances. This post features photographs taken over several years in our garden where water is the sustaining theme. In the top photo above, Vervet Monkeys queue up to drink at a bird bath in a very hot dry spring season back in 2015.
A female Greater Double-collared Sunbird (above) is about to enjoy a drink at one of our garden birdbaths
The birdbaths are in great demand throughout the year. In urban and suburban areas it can be hard for birds and other creatures, including insects, to find water, especially in the dry season. In our area on the edge of town, thirsty timber plantations have dried up many of the water courses adding to the hardships faced by wildlife that still manages to exist in the suburbs and on the fringes of the urban areas.
When starting this blog, I wanted to celebrate the ordinary. What could be more ordinary or more basic than water? And what is more precious? In the current context even a small garden pond such as ours (above) is a luxury. We have rainwater tanks that store water for us to use during water outages (when our supply is interrupted), and we also use this stored rainwater to water the odd plant or two and to top up the pond and the birdbaths in the dry season. We have been fortunate so far that these tanks retain enough water to see us through the dry months of winter.
Guttural Toads spawning during spring in our garden pond. The strands of spawn can be seen
A recent report (released 6 August 2019, see here) by the World Resources Institute (WRI) notes that since the 1960s, water withdrawals globally have more than doubled and the demand continues to grow. The WRI reports that across 17 countries one-quarter of the world’s population faces ‘extremely high’ levels of baseline water stress, where on average each year irrigated agriculture, industries and municipalities draw off more than 80% of the available supply.
A further 44 countries face ‘high’ levels of water stress. It is noted that even in countries where overall the water stress level may be lower, some regions within some of these countries face high levels of water stress. In countries and regions with high levels of water stress where there is a narrow gap between water supply and demand, changes in supply, due to drought for example, or increases in demand/usage can quickly escalate into a crisis. Not only are rural and farming communities at risk, but even large cities are vulnerable. Recent examples of cities running close to “day zero” when the water supply is shut off include Chennai (India) and Cape Town (South Africa). Many other cities are subjected to ongoing water rationing and in many cities many residents do not have reliable (or any) access to a supply of piped water.
A Kurrichane Thrush and Cape White-eyes enjoying the water in the birdbath. Access to clean water is not something that can be taken for granted
The WRI notes that contributing to water stress is the increasing demand for water related to population growth, socioeconomic development and urbanisation. Climate change “can make precipitation and demand more variable” (for more information see https://www.wri.org/blog/2019/08/17-countries-home-one-quarter-world-population-face-extremely-high-water-stress).
Bronze Mannikins drinking at the garden pond
The WRI report stresses that improved water management can help secure our water supplies. There are many steps that can be taken to improve water security and the report highlights three areas where water stress can be reduced by better water management: increasing agricultural efficiency; investing in built infrastructure (such as pipes and treatment plants) and investing in “green infrastructure” or natural water harnessing systems (such as wetlands and healthy watersheds); and treating and reusing water. Of course using water more wisely and sparingly wherever possible is also an important dimension to water conservation, as is not polluting our water systems.
It is not only birds that utilise our birdbaths and pond. In the past few weeks of high temperatures and no rain or dew, high numbers of honeybees have been using the pond and birdbaths
A hoverfly drinking at the garden pond. Pollinators such as honeybees and hoverflies (important for our food security) may also be subject to water stress as much as larger species of animals
In addition to the high winter temperatures and prolonged drought in many parts of South Africa, other recent stories related to the global water situation and climate change have also caught my attention. The widely reported Arctic fires in July (see for example here) and the record melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet (see here) have made me fearful. It has not been a good month.
Meanwhile back home in our hot winter garden the Vervet Monkeys are making regular use of the birdbaths. This picture was taken too early in the day for the arrival of the honeybees, but later in the morning the monkeys have to brave the numerous bees when they try to share the birdbaths
An adult and a juvenile Vervet Monkey share a drink from a birdbath
So, I am trying to work out if it is possible to find a sense of equilibrium in these uncertain times when even counting ones blessings can seem like the height of insensitivity. To get some insight into the day-to-day plight of a someone living in a village (in the Eastern Cape, South Africa) where “the taps had been dry for more than a year, the local dam was down to 10% capacity and the heat and the wind were blowing through her village with the promise of suffering to come”, see this article by Kevin Bloom published by the Daily Maverick.
Having potable water coming out of the taps, enough rain to store in the rainwater tanks and enough water to share with the local birdlife, such as this kingfisher, is not an ordinary thing
In the face of the bigger picture and the bigger challenges it is not irrational to feel overwhelmed. But trying to do small things to make a difference to the lives of individuals and to local biodiversity and to conserve our resources is something to hang on to.
I end by providing a link to a post at The Little Silver Hedgehog on providing water for wildlife, especially hedgehogs https://littlesilverhedgehog.com/2019/07/24/water-for-wildlife/. The Little Silver Hedgehog is the blog of Emma Farley who runs a hedgehog rehabilitation facility at her home in Yorkshire, UK. She funds her work in part through the silver jewellery that she designs and makes herself, so do check out her blog to see both the jewellery that can be ordered online and to read about her wonderful wildlife garden and the great work she does helping hedgehogs that have been injured or are in need of assistance.
And if you need something to cheer you up do look at another Silver Hedgehog post featuring a video of an excited baby hedgehog indulging in behaviour known as “self anointing” when eating some especially delicious food! https://littlesilverhedgehog.com/2019/06/24/baby-hedgehog-hoglet-self-annointing-warning-super-cute-video/
Bloom, Kevin. 2019. Food, drought and fury: UN land report brings the truth to SA’s corrupt. August 12. Our Burning Planet Analysis. Daily Maverick. https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2019-08-12-food-drought-and-fury-un-land-report-brings-the-truth-to-sas-climate-corrupt/; Cassella, Carly. 2019. Wildfires Ravaging the Arctic Right Now are so Intense, You Can See Them from Space. July 26. Science Alert. https://www.sciencealert.com/unprecedented-wildfires-are-ravaging-the-arctic-and-the-images-from-space-are-astonishing; Hofste, Rutger Willem, Reig, Paul & Schleifer, Leah. 2019. 17 Countries, Home to One-Quarter of the World’s Population, Face Extremely High Water Stress. August 6. World Resources Institute (WRI). https://www.wri.org/blog/2019/08/17-countries-home-one-quarter-world-population-face-extremely-high-water-stress; NSIDC. 2019. Greenland Ice Sheet Today. Europe’s warm air spikes Greenland melting to record levels. August 6. National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). http://nsidc.org/greenland-today/2019/08/europes-warm-air-spikes-greenland-melting-to-record-levels/; World Resources Institute (WRI). 2019. Release: Updated Global Water Risk Atlas Reveals Top Water-Stressed Countries and States. Press Release – August 6. https://www.wri.org/news/2019/08/release-updated-global-water-risk-atlas-reveals-top-water-stressed-countries-and-states
Posted by Carol