Dwesa-Cwebe Nature Reserve

General Information


Global IBA (A1, A2, A3)


Eastern Cape


Fully protected


5 740 ha



Additional Info

  • Site description

    This IBA previously comprised two adjoining reserves on the north-eastern Pondoland coast, one on either side of the large mBashe River. The two reserves, Dwesa and Cwebe, have now been combined into a single protected area, although they are separated by the river. The combined reserve contains 20 km of pristine coastline and coastal forest. The topography rises step-wise from the coast to 300 m a.s.l. and is composed of Karoo sediments, Ecca shales and sandstones. The area is drained by a number of rivers, the most important of which is the mBashe River. The climate is humid and temperate. The reserve receives an average rainfall of 870 mm p.a., which falls mostly in spring and early summer. The annual average minimum and maximum temperatures are 15 °C and 20 °C respectively. Because of the maritime influence, there is little diurnal or seasonal variation in the temperature.

    Biogeographically, Dwesa–Cwebe is situated in the Indian Ocean Coastal Belt, which extends along the eastern seaboard of Africa from south-eastern Somalia to Port Elizabeth. Growing on well-drained but poor soils derived from tillite, the vegetation here is typical of edaphic coastal plateau sour grasslands that constitute part of the Tongaland–Pondoland Mosaic. The grasses are low in nutrient content and are of little agricultural value to commercial or subsistence farmers. Small forest patches exist in the river gorges and on the coastal sand dunes. The coastal zone is situated at the southern limit of the East African mangrove belt, which is quite extensive along the coast.


    More than 200 bird species have been recorded in the four pentads of this IBA during SABAP2. The coastal forest at this site is vitally important for the Spotted Ground Thrush Zoothera guttata, which breeds here. Red-necked Spurfowl Pternistis afer and Lemon Dove Aplopelia larvata, which live on the forest floor and at its edge, are common. Bird parties are frequent and typical forest species include Trumpeter Hornbill Bycanistes bucinator, Crowned Hornbill Tockus alboterminatus, Narina Trogon Apaloderma narina, Knysna Turaco Tauraco corythaix, Olive Woodpecker Dendropicos griseocephalus, Knysna Woodpecker Campethera notata, Grey Cuckooshrike Coracina caesia, Chorister Robin-Chat Cossypha dichroa, White-starred Robin Pogonocichla stellata, Brown Scrub Robin Erythropygia signata, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler Phylloscopus ruficapilla, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher Trochocercus cyanomelas, Olive Bush-Shrike Chlorophoneus olivaceus, Swee Waxbill Coccopygia melanotis, Olive Sunbird Cyanomitra olivacea, Grey Sunbird C. veroxii and Forest Canary Crithagra scotops.

    Forest raptors include Forest Buzzard Buteo trizonatus, Crowned Eagle Stephanoaetus coronatus, Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk Accipiter rufiventris, Black Sparrowhawk A. melanoleucus and, at night, African Wood Owl Strix woodfordii. The quiet forest streams provide habitat for Half-collared Kingfisher Alcedo semitorquata and Mountain Wagtail Motacilla clara.

    The moist grassland patches surrounding the forest constitute roughly a quarter of the habitat of the IBA and support low numbers of Grey Crowned Crane Balearica regulorum, Black-winged Lapwing Vanellus melanopterus, African Grass Owl Tyto capensis, Southern Ground-Hornbill Bucorvus leadbeateri and occasionally Denham’s Bustard Neotis denhami. The coastal mangroves hold the only protected breeding population of Mangrove Kingfisher Halcyon senegaloides in South Africa. The rugged coastline, with its associated mussel-beds, supports African Black Oystercatcher Haematopus moquini.

    IBA trigger species

    The globally threatened Spotted Ground Thrush and Knysna Woodpecker occur at this site in good numbers, as well as Grey Crowned Crane and Crowned Eagle. Regionally threatened trigger species are Lanner Falcon Falco biarmicus, Mangrove Kingfisher and Half-collared Kingfisher. Restricted-range and biome-restricted species that are common in the IBA include Black-bellied Starling Notopholia corrusca, Knysna Turaco and Grey Sunbird. Knysna Woodpecker, Mangrove Kingfisher, Grey Cuckooshrike, Brown Scrub Robin, Chorister Robin-Chat, White-starred Robin, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Swee Waxbill and Forest Canary are locally common, and Olive Bush-Shrike is an uncommon biome-restricted species.

    Other biodiversity

    The coastal forest–grassland mosaic may support the South African endemic giant golden mole Chrysospalax trevelyani, Zulu golden mole Amblysomus iris, forest shrew Myosorex varius and least dwarf shrew Suncus infinitesimus, all of which occur within the general vicinity. The South African endemic Natal black snake Macrelaps microlepidotus and southern brown egg eater Dasypeltis inornata are known to occur in the reserve.

    The area is also particularly rich in highly localised endemic frogs and yellow-striped reed frog Hyperolius semidiscus, forest tree frog Leptopelis natalensis, plaintive rain frog Breviceps verrucosus and kloof frog Natalobatrachus bonebergi have all been recorded in the reserve. Knysna leaf-folding frog Afrixalus knysnae, Natal chirping frog Arthroleptella hewitti and bush squeaker Arthroleptis wahlbergi all occur along this coastal strip and possibly also in Dwesa–Cwebe.

    Conservation issues


    The IBA is essentially an island of forest, with grassland patches, along the coast. The surrounding landscape is almost entirely transformed by subsistence agriculture. The isolation of this forest patch from other significant forest patches could lead to a loss of biodiversity and concurrent loss of the IBA trigger bird species over time. However, apart from the isolation of species populations, there are no major threats impacting on the habitat or birds of the IBA and most trigger species are still recorded in the reserve.

    This area, like many other coastal forests along the south-eastern coast of South Africa, may be prone to deforestation and firewood removal by adjacent rural communities. The illegal harvesting of wood for firewood and fence poles and the stripping of bark for medicinal use, which is unsustainable and carried out in a destructive way, will reduce the habitat quality of the forest for birds. Removal of old growth could affect hole-nesting species such as Trumpeter Hornbill and Green Wood-hoopoe Phoeniculus purpureus. Populations of these birds should be monitored as they may reveal trends in old growth removal.

    Invasive alien plant species (including Eucalyptus species, bugweed Solanum mauritianium, lantana Lantana camara and guava trees Psidium guajava) occur in moderate densities in the IBA. The presence of these invasive plants is confined mostly to the wetland and grassland areas rather than the indigenous forest habitat. The snaring of small game species such as antelope does occur and has escalated over the years. Snares may also capture non-target species such as birds and thus pose a threat to the bird species and biodiversity of the IBA. Poachers accessing the reserve also cause disturbance and potentially habitat degradation.

    Conservation action

    These reserves were both gazetted in 1975. They were subsequently part of a successful land claim by rural communities nearby and have changed ownership to the Dwesa–Cwebe Community Property Association. However, the land claim settlement agreement does not allow the land use to be changed from conservation and a management authority, ECPTA, has been appointed for the reserve.

    The formal management by ECPTA, and other partnerships, has led to a number of conservation actions. These include (but are not limited to) regular field ranger patrols; fence line repairs and monitoring; road and entrance gate upgrades and maintenance; coast care team activities; alien plant control (Working for Water); and fire-fighting.

    Related webpages




    If you have any information about the IBA, such as a new threat that could impact on it, please send an e-mail to iba@birdlife.org.za or call BirdLife South Africa +27 (11) 789 1122.

    Page last updated

    Friday, 23 January 2015

    Further Reading

    Benson CW. 1950. Some notes on the Spotted Forest Thrush. Ostrich 21: 58–61.

    Benson CW. 1952. A further note on the Spotted Forest Thrush. Ostrich 23: 48.

    Clancey PA. 1955. Further as to the present status of Turdus fischeri natalicus Grote. Ostrich 26: 164–165.

    Clancey PA. 1957a. Further records of the Spotted Thrush being killed on migration. Ostrich 28: 126–127.

    Clancey PA. 1957b. Some further records of the Spotted Thrush on migration. Ostrich 28: 237.

    Fay D. 2007. Struggles over resources and community formation at Dwesa-Cwebe, South Africa. The International Journal of Biodiversity Science and Management 3(2): 88–101.

    Hayward MW. 2009. Bushmeat hunting in Dwesa and Cwebe Nature Reserves, Eastern Cape, South Africa. South African Journal of Wildlife Research 39(1): 70–84.

    Johnson CT, Cawe S. 1987. Analysis of the tree taxa in Transkei. South African Journal of Botany 53: 387–394.

    Quickelberge CD. 1969. Notes on the Spotted Thrush Turdus fischeri. Ostrich 40: 133–134.

    Timmermans HG. 2004. Rural livelihoods at Dwesa/Cwebe: poverty, development and natural resource use on the Wild Coast, South Africa. PhD thesis, Rhodes University, South Africa.

    Wright DR. 2014. Wild and wonderful. African Birdlife 2(6): 65.


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