What is an OECM?
Only officially defined by the CBD in 2018, an OECM is “a geographically defined area other than a Protected Area, which is governed and managed in ways that achieve positive and sustained long-term outcomes for the in-situ conservation of biodiversity, with associated ecosystem functions and services and where applicable, cultural, spiritual, socio-economic, and other locally relevant values”.
Essentially, OECMs are sites with high biodiversity and ecosystem services value, found outside of the formal protected areas network that provide conservation as an objective (even if it is not the primary objective) in addition to the site’s foremost land use objectives. OECMs can encompass a range of different approaches to governance and conversation management, including agreements signed through Biodiversity Stewardship.
What is the reason for this project?
Through Biodiversity Stewardship, South Africa has been highly effective at expanding the conservation estate (comprised of protected and conservation areas), particularly on privately and communally owned land. Protected areas are legislated under the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act of 2003 and are reported nationally and internationally. Conservation areas, however, have not been well recognized and reported in South Africa. The result is that South Africa is under-reporting and falling short of national and international area-based conservation targets e.g. Aichi Target 11 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and more recently, the draft CBD Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework targets. The new area-based target calls for 30% of the world’s marine, freshwater and terrestrial spaces to be well-protected and conserved by 2030 through an expanded, well-connected network of protected areas and ‘other effective area-based conservation measures’ (OECMs). The project aims to identify and assess potential OECMs in the Western Cape, focussing initially on assessing and reporting existing, qualifying conservation areas. This project will also look to understand and quantify the capacity and resource requirements needed to assess OECMs in the province, and provide training to key stakeholders to support the assessment and reporting of OECMS in the Western Cape.
Who is involved in this project?
Funded through a grant from the WWF Nedbank Green Trust Leslie Hill Succulent Karoo Trust, BirdLife South Africa is coordinating this exciting work in collaboration with CapeNature and Conservation Outcomes with support from the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment, South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), Wilderness Foundation Africa and the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas.
What are IBAs?
Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs), as defined by BirdLife International, constitute a global network of over 13 500 sites, of which 113 sites are found in South Africa. IBAs are sites of global significance for bird conservation, identified nationally through multi-stakeholder processes using globally standardised, quantitative and scientifically agreed criteria. Essentially, these are the most important sites for conserving.
Habitat loss, alteration and degradation threaten South Africa’s biodiversity
No one likes to start with the negative, but as a conservation NGO one of BirdLife South Africa’s objectives is to mitigate threats to our birds and the habitats on which they depend. 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.
Now let’s talk about the fun part, in that our important strategy to overcome threats to our birds! The Landscape Conservation Programme’s vision is to see critical sites and habitats, and associated ecosystem services, better protected and sustainably managed for the benefit of birds, other biodiversity, and people. The Programme’s mission is to identify, protect and manage a network of sites that are important for the persistence of birds, their habitats and other biodiversity, through scientifically-based programmes, through improving the conservation status of IBAs and KBAs, through supporting the sustainable management and equitable use of natural resources, and through encouraging people to enjoy and value nature.
The former* IBA Programme’s 2018-2023 Strategy outlines the below objectives and many of these will be incorporated into the Landscape Conservation Programme Strategy for 2021-2025:
Strategic objective 1: Strategic, integrated landscape planning
The KBA Programme’s approach is to develop and implement high quality and high impact projects, focusing on qualitative outcomes instead of perverse quantitative targets.
*BirdLife South Africa’s Conservation Division underwent a restructure during 2019 and the IBA Programme and Terrestrial Bird Conservation Programme were combined into the new Landscape Conservation Programme.
Strategic objective 2: Safeguard the most important sites for birds
A comprehensive network of IBAs includes all sites important for birds. Priority sites are safeguarded, as protected areas or conservation areas, in order to mitigate severe impacts from climate change, to prevent unsustainable development and habitat loss, and by improving habitat management.
Strategic objective 3: Improve habitat management in KBAs
Support habitat management through providing bird-friendly habitat management guidelines, developing innovative management planning, improving monitoring effectiveness, enhancing landowner awareness, providing advisory support, and implementing habitat rehabilitation interventions.
Strategic objective 4: Manage data
The IBA and KBA networks are identified using global scientific criteria. To ensure that the networks are defensible and that accurate data can be provided to end users, the data need to be centrally collected, stored, vetted, analysed, and made available to inform academic research and conservation planning.
Strategic objective 5: Mainstreaming
IBAs, Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) and bird species data are better represented in other spatial planning and assessment products, e.g. national biodiversity assessments, conservation plans, spatial development frameworks and protected area expansion strategies.
Strategic objective 6: Increase support
Increase awareness within the public, government and corporate sectors to gain support for IBA and KBA conservation and monitoring, and for specific projects. More specifically with landowners to create local custodians, with citizen scientists to increase data collection, with academics to fill information gaps, and with the general public to increase local support, awareness and sustainable use of IBAs and associated natural resources.
The IBA Programme has realised a number of successes since 2010, and has been able to position itself within the sector to play significant and often leading roles in a number of initiatives which aid the Programme to realise its vision, mission and goals. These successes include:
• the revision and publication of the IBA Directory (Marnewick et al. 2015a);
• the publication of the first IBA Status Report (Marnewick et al. 2015b);
• assisting in declaring over 100 000 hectares of protected areas, and 30 000 hectares as conservation areas within priority IBAs, consisting of threatened grasslands and wetlands; accessing the first tax incentive for a protected area;
• publishing best-practice guidelines in favour of birds for the management of i) grasslands (Uys et al. 2013), ii) of fynbos (Wright et al. 2017), iii) for waterbirds in agricultural landscapes (Wright et al. 2017), and v) Fences & birds: Minimizing unintended impacts (Retief 2018);
• supporting avitourism in IBAs by publishing iv) guidelines for building mobility-friendly bird hides (Retief 2013), and v) A guide to bird watching In & around Memel (Retief et al. 2018);
• developing best practice guidelines for the expansion of protected areas through biodiversity stewardship by coordinating the publication of the vi) National Biodiversity Stewardship Guideline 2018 (SANBI in press), and publishing vii) Enhancing Biodiversity Stewardship in South Africa (Wright 2018);
• increasing the amount of citizen science data collected and submitted for birds through a strategic partnership with BirdLasser; and
• mainstreaming avifaunal spatial information into the broader biodiversity planning sector.
The IBA Programme has also developed strategic partnerships with government and private organisations, e.g. WWF-SA, the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), and Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA). Senior staff within the Programme have develop the necessary skills sets, regional and national partner networks, and institutional knowledge. These are significant institutional resources which will now allow these staff to make significant contributions to implementing this strategy. This five year (2018-2023) strategy aims to build on these previous successes, learn from past experience, utilise existing skill sets, and build on established networks to grow the work of the KBA Programme together with BirdLife South Africa’s Regional Conservation Programme.