BirdLife South Africa, in colaboration with other NGOs, continues to promote Biodiversity Stewardship as a valuable method to conserve biodiversity in the Free State Province. Many threatened bird species, such as large raptors and cranes, make extensive use of the private land to forage and breed. In order to ensure that these areas are sustained in the future, we need to work with private land owners to conserve the natural habitats that occur on their properties. One way to do this is through the declaration of Protected Environments. A “Protected Environment” is a class of protection under the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act (NEMPAA), which offers the next most secure form of protection after a nature reserve. The fact that protected areas can be proclaimed on privately owned land is made possible through the innovative national Biodiversity Stewardship Programme.
The proposed Upper Wilge Protected Environment is located in the eastern Free State, between the towns of Verkykerskop and Van Reenen within the Thabo Mofutsanyane District Municipality (DC19) and the Phumelela Local Municipality. The properties are also located in close proximity to the Ingula Nature Reserve. The Protected Environment comprises of 59 separate properties with a total extent of 32 216 hectares.The Landowners Association was established in 2018 and it is hoped that the Protected Environment will be declared in 2019.

This site is critically important for the following reasons:

  • It has critically important biodiversity which will be secured through this initiative and will contribute to achieving provincial and national conservation targets;
  • It is extremely important in terms of its location for protecting critically important wetlands and the associated freshwater biodiversity;
  • It will contribute to Protected Area expansion targets at the provincial level and it is located in a site deemed as a national priority for protected area expansion;
  • The site is located in close proximity to the Ingula Nature Reserve and will thus contribute towards the creation of an effective buffer zone, or zone of influence, for the reserve.

In 2016, a spectacular area of the north-eastern Free State around the village of Memel became the first area in the Free State province to be declared as a “protected environment”. The 17 456 hectare protected area, known as the Sneeuwberg Protected Environment (SPE), was gazetted on Friday 29 July 2016.The Sneeuwberg Protected Environment lies within a strategic water source area, feeding rivers that provide water for many of our cities. It is also rich in fauna and flora and falls within the Grasslands Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA). The area is important for unique and threatened bird species such as the threatened Wattled Crane, Southern Bald Ibis, Blue Korhaan, Denham’s Bustard, Yellow-breasted Pipit and Rudd’s Lark. Other important species to occur in this mountainous grassland environment include the Oribi and the Giant Girdled Lizard.
In terms of the gazette notice, the purpose of the declaration is to:

  • Regulate the area as a buffer zone for the protection of and conservation of the provincial Seekoeivlei Nature Reserve;
  • To enable landowners to take collective action to protect unique and threatened grasslands, wetlands, and the associated animals and;
  • To ensure that “ecosystem services” derived from the area (such as water production) are sustained.

BirdLife South Africa continues to provide support to the Management Authority of this Protected Environment, for example BirdLife South drafted the Management Plan for the Protected Environment and assists with the implementation of the plan. We also provide administrative support where needed.

Estuaries are well-known for their biodiversity, particularly their spectacular birdlife and important fisheries. They perform a myriad of essential services, such as water purification, flood attenuation, and providing nursery areas for fish and staging areas for significant populations of migratory birds. Yet they remain one of the country’s most threatened ecosystem types, in part due to their lack of formal protection. Many of South Africa’s most important estuaries for conservation have little or no formal protection. Unprotected, estuaries face an increasing number of threats, including over-abstraction and pollution of their rivers, encroaching development and intensifying human disturbance, as well as an overall lack of management. Launched in July 2015, the project looks to formally protect and improve conservation action at priority estuaries within IBAs in the Western Cape.
Funded by WWF South Africa’s Elizabeth Harding Bequest, the project has focused on driving conservation action and protected area expansion at two of the highest priority estuarine IBAs in the Western Cape, namely the Berg River Estuary and Cape Whale Coast IBAs. This includes the re-establishment of a Conservancy in the middle and upper reaches of the Berg River estuary, covering more than 20,000ha; and ongoing work towards protected area declarations on privately-owned riparian properties at the Berg River and Klein River estuaries. In 2018, the project received additional funding from the Rupert Natuurstigting for a 5-year programme of work looking at the formal protection of estuarine waterbodies themselves, and allowing for a continued presence in the estuary conservation landscape in order to achieve greater protection and sustained action for these vulnerable, but highly valuable ecosystems.

There are less than 30 pairs of Blue Swallow left in South Africa and only 2% of the grassland habitat which they rely on for feeding and breeding, is conserved in formal protected areas. The Blue Swallow Monitoring Project is coordinating and working with several key partners to monitor Blue Swallow populations and their breeding success in KZN. Almost all Blue Swallow nest sites occur on private or communal land and thus collaboration with the landowners and raising awareness of the plight of this species is critical for its future. There are currently seven people contributing to data collection and the team is monitoring more than 150 Blue Swallow nest sites in an attempt to cover all the priority areas in KZN. The monitoring efforts are essential to inform the conservation of this highly threatened species and assist in prioritizing sites for future involvement in biodiversity stewardship and other conservation initiatives.

BirdLife South Africa and Conservation Outcomes have established a long-term partnership to support the conservation of KwaZulu-Natal’s natural heritage. This partnership is enhancing the conservation of key areas in the province and providing assistance and support to land holders who would like to contribute to conserving important biodiversity. The Mistbelt Grassland and Forest Conservation Project is in the process of working with landowners to secure seven properties with key threatened bird habitat and breeding sites, including over 2000 hectares of mistbelt grassland for Blue Swallows and key wetland areas for Wattled Crane and other threatened species. Of these, four properties are in the process of being declared as Nature Reserves while landowners have opted for Protected Environment and Biodiversity Agreement status for the other three sites. The Conservation Outcomes-BirdLife SA partnership in KZN is thus also supporting Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife to meet their conservation targets, monitoring threatened bird populations and providing land owner support to manage properties once they have been protected.
The partnership is currently looking to expand its work to include conservation projects focused on the threatened Cape Parrot, whilst also supporting land holders in the northern KZN region of Zululand to develop conservation projects which support rural development and the local economy.

Biodiversity stewardship is an approach to securing land in biodiversity priority areas through entering into agreements with private and communal landowners, which is led by conservation authorities. NGOs often play a key supporting role in this. The objective of biodiversity stewardship is to conserve and manage biodiversity priority areas through voluntary agreements with landowners. This can include formal protection, management and restoration of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
The primary threats to birds and other biodiversity, both in South Africa and abroad, are habitat loss and habitat degradation. The main factors underlying habitat loss and degradation include alien invasive species, overgrazing, agricultural and industrial expansion, incorrect fire regimes, pollution, alterations to water courses and declining water quality (Marnewick et al. 2015, Taylor et al. 2017).
There are a number of key challenges that contribute to the above threats. Approximately 60% of the IBA network is unprotected, leaving these sites vulnerable to habitat transformation and mismanagement. Habitats within many IBAs are poorly managed, leading to habitat degradation, especially in unprotected sites.
Biodiversity stewardship provides the most effective and efficient tools and mechanisms to conserve privately owned land in IBAs. Through biodiversity stewardship, the IBA Programme has played leading roles in the declaration of 100 000 hectares of privately protected areas (as legislated in the Protected Areas Act), and an additional 30 000 hectares of conservation areas.

The IBA Team, along with the Policy & Advocacy Programme, are playing lead roles in supporting the biodiversity stewardship sector through:

  • Co-leading the coordination and co-authoring the revised national Biodiversity Stewardship Guideline;
  • Testing new biodiversity stewardship mechanisms, such as servitudes;
  • Doing research on the challenges and opportunities within the sector; and
  • Aligning international standards, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Aichi Target 11 Conservation Areas (OECMs) with the national biodiversity stewardship framework.

The Karoo biome is a vast arid zone environment covering 26% of South Africa and parts of Namibia, and it is home to 11 endemic bird species. The Karoo Birds Research Project is a BirdLife South Africa initiative which ran from 2017-2018, and aimed to provide a conservation assessment by obtaining data on population size, range and population trends primarily of the Karoo endemic bird species. This was partly run in conjunction with the Karoo BioGaps project. The South African National Biodiversity Institute’s (SANBI) Karoo BioGaps project aimed to gather foundational biodiversity data to support the impact assessments for Shale Gas and other infrastructure development projects in the Karoo basin.
During 2017 and 2018 we conducted 2854 point counts across 150 pentads, mostly from the end of July to October, largely corresponding to the late winter to early spring period. The research found that avian species richness and bird abundance increased eastwards, mostly explained by increasing overall vegetation height, but accompanied by increasing grass cover and decreasing sand cover. In contrast, Karoo endemic bird species richness decreased eastwards, negatively correlated with increasing grass and acacia tree cover. Density and species richness were especially high around water locations and farmhouses, and we found that the presence of many species to be influenced by water, a surprising result for an arid environment. The project calculated density estimates for 78 bird species and explored the relationship between bird density and atlas reporting rates. Threats identified to ecological integrity included over-grazing, warming due to climate change, and the use of poison for control of problem animals. Overall, despite several drought years across the Karoo and a myriad of threats, populations of the Karoo endemic bird species appear stable.
BirdLife South Africa is now investigating the need to move into a second phase where the research recommendations are used to inform a conservation project in the region. A guideline on the ecology of the Karoo endemic birds and their habitat management requirements is also being produced.

There are a number of reasons why it is important to have accurate bird distribution and population data. For example in order to conserve birds effectively, you need to know where to spend most of your time and funds and you can only do so if you know where most of the threatened bird species occur. Accurate bird data also tells you if your conservation efforts are effective, and if not, decisions can be taken to adapt conservation strategies. BirdLife South Africa therefore support a number of bird monitoring projects, for example:

  • The Southern African Bird Atlas Project: BirdLife South Africa is a partner of the project and provides support to the project in various ways. For example, Ernst Retief is the coordinator of the project and a number of other staff serve on the SABAP2 Steering Committee.
  • BirdLasser Threatened Species Cause: Through the use of the mobile application BirdLasser, BirdLife South Africa receives thousands of point locations of threatened bird species every month. This data are then used in species modeling exercises.
  • Regional data collection projects: BirdLife South Africa supports individuals or groups that collect bird distribution and population data for a specific region. For example, Warwick and Michelle Tarboton are conducting a long term bird monitoring project in the Waterberg System Important Bird and Biodiversity Area.
  • Annotated checklist series: BirdLife South Africa will soon launch a new annotated checklist series which will contain population and other data for a specific area.

Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) are sites that are important for the global persistence of biodiversity, including vital habitat for threatened plant and animal species in terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems. The Global Standard for the Identification of Key Biodiversity Areas (IUCN 2016) sets out globally agreed criteria for the identification of KBAs worldwide.
BirdLife South Africa formed a strategic partnership with the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) to initiate the KBA Programme in South Africa. Together they co-chair the KBA National Coordination Group, and are overseeing the technical review of South Africa’s network of KBAs. BirdLife South Africa is providing all the bird information to ensure all sites important for birds are considered for KBA status.This include spatial data, mostly based on data from the Southern African Bird Atlas Project, of all threatened, endemic and range restricted species. Additional information about population numbers, for example of Cape Vulture breeding colonies, are also provided. BirdLife South Africa will ensure that the data are used in line with the KBA criteria and guidelines and will provide extensive comments to the proposed KBA network.

Through its work initiating the KBA programme in South Africa, Daniel Marnewick was nominated onto the global KBA Committee as the Chair of the Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) Community. Daniel is responsible for creating ‘groundswell’ of support for KBAs and the establishment of national KBA programmes across the world. The KBA Community is the body through which the broader KBA community of practice can engage in the conservation of KBAs and have a voice on the KBA Committee. Daniel has supported a number of countries, particularly in Africa, to initiated national KBA Programmes. Daniel is also supporting the KBA Committee to entrench KBAs in the CBD Post-2020 targets.

The Biodiversity Assessment for Spatial Prioritization in Africa (BASPA) project is within BirdLife South Africa’s KBA Programme and works in partnership with the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). The project aims to support and build capacity in African countries to mobilise foundational biodiversity information on the status, trends and pressures on national biodiversity through the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species, Ecosystems and Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) identification. The project is coordinated by Dr. Simeon Bezeng Bezeng with support from Mr Daniel Marnewick (BirdLife South Africa; KBA Community Chair and African Representative) and Ms Domitilla Raimondo (SANBI’s Threatened Species Programme Manager and IUCN SSC Deputy Chair).
Through a comprehensive analysis taking into account mega-diversity as an indicator of biodiversity, strong institutional support and the willingness to mainstream biodiversity data into policy, the BASPA project is currently being pioneered in Cameroon, Gabon, Kenya and Ethiopia.

Aichi Target 11 of the CBD Strategic Plan for 2011-2020 calls on Parties to achieve 17% coverage of terrestrial areas and 10% of marine areas by protected areas and “other effective area-based conservation measures”, now generally referred to as OECMs. A draft definition of OECMs has been prepared by the IUCN WCPA Task Force on OECMs, which defines an OECM as “A geographically defined space, not recognised as a protected area, which is governed and managed over the long-term in ways that deliver the effective and enduring in-situ conservation of biodiversity, with associated ecosystem services and cultural and spiritual values.”  The challenge now is to develop a protocol for systematically identifying such areas at a national level to allow reporting against Aichi Target 11 and to focus support for management systems that conserve biodiversity outside protected area networks. It is also critical that this process clearly highlights the distinction between OECMs and protected areas, including privately protected areas, and provide guidance on how this can be achieved to ensure accurate identification and reporting by countries.
This Project will undertake the first country-level assessment to determine both the type and extent of areas and sites, outside of the formal protected area network in South Africa, that are effectively conserving nature and meet the draft IUCN/CBD definition of a potential OECM. In-country research by South African experts, Daniel Marnewick and Candice Stevens, aims to ensure that the draft IUCN Guidelines for Recognising and Reporting OECMs is supported by empirical evidence as well as detailed technical analysis of the prevalence and characteristics of effective conservation occurring outside of the South African protected area network (i.e. ‘potential OECMs’). The protocol will then be assessed in a number of other countries to assess whether this national model is also suitable for use at a global scale, and if not to identify alternative or additional methods to develop a global model.

Contact Us

Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas