Meet the Team

Policy and Advocacy


Dr Melissa Lewis

Policy and Advocacy Programme Manager

Melissa is responsible for overseeing and coordinating BirdLife South Africa’s policy and advocacy work. She works closely with government, other NGOs, and a variety of other stakeholders with a view to ensuring that birds and their habitats are properly considered in policy- and decision-making in South Africa, other African countries, and at the international level. Melissa represents BirdLife South Africa on the national Lead (Pb) Task Team, the Offshore Operations Stakeholder Forum and its Environmental Working Group, and the national White-winged Flufftail Working Group. She also sits on the BirdLife Partnership’s Multilateral Environmental Agreement (MEA) Coordination Group and African Site Casework and Emerging Threats Taskforce (ASCET), is the Regional Representative for southern Africa on the Technical Committee of the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), and coordinates the AEWA International Working Group for the Lesser Flamingo. She has a PhD in international wildlife law and over a decade’s experience working with international legal frameworks for bird conservation and their national implementation in Africa and western Eurasia.

Kirsten Day

Dr Kirsten Day

Advocacy Officer

Kirsten works part-time for the Policy and Advocacy Programme. She is responsible for coordinating many of BirdLife South Africa’s responses to development applications and authorisations which threaten priority species and habitats. She also contributes to BirdLife South Africa’s inputs on relevant legal and policy developments, and to the development and dissemination of various position statements and guidance documents. Kirsten has a PhD in environmental risk management and many years of experience in conducting and reviewing environmental impact assessments.

John Pafuri

John Gibbs

Birds and Renewable Energy Project Leader

John is responsible for providing strategic leadership to the Birds and Renewable Energy Project, securing the resources needed to sustain and scale up its work, collaborating with key stakeholders, and encouraging renewable energy operators to contribute positively to biodiversity conservation. John has considerable experience as a financial advisor for renewable energy and other infrastructure projects in various countries. In South Africa, he worked extensively with the Independent Power Producer Office on the design and implementation of the well-known Renewable Independent Power Producer Programme (REIPPP). Working for BirdLife South Africa allows him to combine his years of experience in the renewable energy space with his longstanding passion for conservation and the birds of southern Africa.


Sam Ralston-Paton

Birds and Renewable Energy Project Manager

Sam works with government, the renewable energy industry, environmental assessment practitioners, consulting bird specialists and academics to help renewable energy develop in harmony with nature. She has her MSc in Conservation Biology and over 18 years’ experience in environmental management – more than half of which has been spent as BirdLife South Africa’s Birds and Renewable Energy Project Manager. She is passionate about environmental sustainability, and enjoys challenging herself, and other people, to have a more positive impact on the planet.