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Important Bird Areas

iba-logoThe Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) Programme is one of BirdLife South Africa's most important conservation programmes. It speaks to all four focal areas of BirdLife South Africa – species, sites, habitats and people.

After a rebirth at the end of 2009, the IBA Programme has grown from strength to strength. In 2012 the programme will grow to eight staff members, including a national coordinator, four regional conservation managers, an IBA data manager, and two education and community development staff. The IBA Steering Committee continues to offer valuable guidance and decision-making support to Daniel Marnewick, the national coordinator, and the rest of the team.

We are confident that soon the IBA Programme will once again be at the forefront of conservation in South Africa, becoming the guardian of our birds' most important habitats.

What are IBAs?

The Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) Programme is one of BirdLife International's most important conservation initiatives. The IBA Programme identifies and works to conserve a network of sites critical for the long-term survival of bird species that:

  • are globally threatened
  • have a restricted range
  • are restricted to specific biomes/vegetation types


A fourth category is sites that have significant populations; for example, 20 000 waterbirds or 10 000 pairs of a species of seabird. South Africa has 101 Global IBAs and an additional 21 Regional IBAs. South Africa is a large country, supporting eight biomes and c. 841 bird species, of which more than 700 are resident or annual visitors, 74 of which are endemic or near-endemic and 125 of which are listed in The Eskom Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.

The IBA Programme

Watch a short video - click here

The South African IBA Programme is coordinated by BirdLife South Africa.  The purpose of the IBA Programme is to identify and protect a network of sites, at a biogeographical scale, critical for the long-term viability of naturally-occurring bird populations. The IBA Programme helps BirdLife South Africa's partners prioritise conservation action amongst sites.

BirdLife South Africa's mission is that the IBA Programme will assist in determining national conservation priorities for South Africa, as well as become a vital tool in conserving these areas through a national network of partners and Site Support Groups.

In 2011, the IBA Programme strategically spread its wings, creating a new level of position for Regional Conservation Managers. A “bite size chunks” approach was adopted, to coordinate nationally, work regionally and act locally. In 2012 there are active regional manager for Gauteng/North West, Mpumalanga/Free State, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. See Regional Conservation Managers for more details.

BirdLife South Africa believes that with the support of its bird clubs, its members, government, other partners and the general public, we will make the IBA Programme a flagship initiative for protecting South Africa's birds and their habitats.

The IBA webpages are designed to provide you with all the information you need regarding where our IBAs are located, their current status, how to assist with IBA assessments, etc. The interactive IBA Map shows the boundaries of the 124 IBAs in South Africa and more detail on an IBA. There will soon be a webpage per IBA, giving you all the info you need about your favourite IBA. These pages will be continually updated as IBA Assessments are completed. This will in effect become a living IBA directory.

Current state of South Africa’s IBAs

Historically, a global trend was to delineated protected areas based on political boundaries and agendas. This resulted in serious gaps in global protected area networks, no more so than in South Africa. At the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Conference of the Parties meeting in Japan (2010), BirdLife International used the global IBA network map to show politicians what a first cut of important biodiversity areas should look like, and where the gaps were in the protected area networks.

Back in 1998, The Important Bird Areas of Southern Africa (Barnes 1998) directory was a leader of its time, showing us the critical areas for bird conservation. The IBA network has however remained static since then. Today, advances in conservation planning and GIS have surpassed what this directory has to offer. BirdLife South Africa has made it our mission not only to align our IBAs with these advances, but to become a front runner when it comes to planning for biodiversity conservation. This is not to say that the IBAs identified in 1998 are not still important, but rather that the justification and conservation planning for those sites need to be more scientifically sound. So we need to re-evaluate the status of existing IBAs. We have begun doing so using up-to-date avian, biodiversity conservation planning and spatial planning data. The end product will be dynamic, scientifically defensible, data-driven, and ultimately mainstreamed into provincial and national biodiversity plans. We are very excited about this undertaking!

At present, South Africa has 124 IBAs, covering over 14 million hectares of habitat for our threatened, endemic and congregatory birds. Yet only 41% of the total land surface covered by our IBAs is legally protected. The BirdLife South Africa IBA Programme continues working to conserve IBAs through environmental education, advocacy, assessments, monitoring, establishing site support groups (SSGs) and ultimately through proclamation as a protected area using biodiversity stewardship.

Sadly, many of the key threats identified in the 1998 IBA directory have since intensified. Habitat loss and degradation due to mining, urban expansion and inappropriate agricultural practices continue to jeopardise our most critical sites for biodiversity. New threats have also emerged, such as windfarms and fracking. Climate change and habitat loss remain two of the biggest threats to our birds.

BirdLife South Africa registers on a regular basis as an Interested & Affected Party for inappropriate mining applications and developments that might affect birds in our priority IBAs. But we are only a small team, working across a large country. So Ernst Retief has published a short Guide to Access Avian Data for EIA Reports to assist EIA practitioners. This guideline can be downloaded from our website.

This year, IBA monitoring assessments have been completed for Collywobbles, Suikerbosrand and Magaliesberg, and started for Nylsvley, Steenkampsberg and Memel. With almost 120 IBAs awaiting assessment, we have a big task ahead of us! Therefore, we have established three Regional IBA Conservation Working Groups in Gauteng/North West, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal to assist BirdLife South Africa with IBA assessments and avian monitoring. We plan to establish similar regional fora in Mpumalanga and Free State in 2012. In 2012 we hope to have assessed at least 90% of the IBAs where we have regional managers. This will provide us with data to compile an IBA Trend & Status Report using indictors such as ‘status’, ‘threat’ and ‘response’ to tell us whether we are succeeding in conserving our birds’ habitats.

For more information, please contact Daniel Marnewick, Manager: Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas and Regional Conservation Programme, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.