Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) are sites that contribute significantly to 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 has formed a strategic partnership with the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) to initiate the KBA Programme in South Africa. Together, we 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 relevant information on birds to ensure that all sites that are important for birds, are considered for KBA status. Spatial data gathered through citizen science platforms (BirdLasser and SABAP2) are also included.

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

The identification of KBAs is meant to be a bottom up processes, i.e. these sites are identified and proposed by local experts. To facilitate this, countries are encouraged to establish KBA National Coordination Groups (NCGs). NCGs are constituted of representatives from government agencies, KBA partner country offices, and other taxa and spatial planning experts. NCGs should identify KBAs and vet KBA proposals before these proposals go to the KBA Regional Focal Point and ultimately to the KBA Secretariat for loading onto the KBA World Database.

The below map shows where BirdLife South Africa’s Regional Conservation Programme has been supporting African countries to establish KBA NCGs and begin identifying KBAs.

The Biodiversity Assessment for Spatial Prioritization in Africa (BASPA) project falls within BirdLife South Africa’s KBA Programme, which is implemented 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 ultimate goal of BASPA is to empower African countries to mainstream these biodiversity standards into country policies and decision-making process in order to inform large developments and report on multilateral environmental agreements. The BASPA project is currently being pioneered in four African countries including Cameroon, Gabon, Kenya and Ethiopia but with broader support to other African countries that are undertaking IUCN national Red Listing and 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).

Aichi Target 11 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (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 World Commission on Protected Areas (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 was 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.

The first country-level assessment was undertaken in 2019 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, aimed 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.

The project has now been completed upon the successful assessment of case study sites in the Kruger 2 Canyon Region. The case study assessment report and the project report will be available soon. This project was only the beginning of the process to recognise OECMs in South Africa. During the project, and using the results of our study, we continue to work closely with the Department of Environmental Affairs, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) and SANBI, to ensure that OECMs will be successfully integrated into our current estate of conservation areas and the existing frameworks under biodiversity stewardship. To further ensure the required government and sector support and the mobilisation of the required resources, OECMs need to be strategically and timely assimilated into the sector, and this will be an ongoing process over the next couple of years.

The protocol has been used to develop the draft “A step-by-step methodology for identifying, reporting, recognising, and supporting OECMs”, which will be an IUCN global methodology to assist other countries to assess their OECMs.

Birds do not recognise international boundaries. Any attempts to conserve birds in South Africa may be in vein if those same birds, whilst undertaking annual migration or even local movements, fall foul of the plethora of threats facing this group in southern Africa. Recognising this, BirdLife South Africa, with the support of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, is assisting the East Atlantic Flyways Initiative (EAFI) Task Force with the aim of improving collaboration between BirdLife partners on key conservation issues affecting migratory and threatened bird species.

The taskforce has been mandated to consult with BirdLife partners and plan, help fundraise for and coordinate the implementation of the initiative across the regions. In addition, the taskforce coordinates stakeholders undertaking monitoring work on the flyway and collaborates with existing programmes such as the Arctic Migratory Bird and Wadden Sea Flyway initiatives. BirdLife South Africa has played an instrumental role in the development of policy documents as well as a framework for the initiative and the coordination of activities amongst BirdLife partners in the southern hemisphere. BirdLife South Africa will integrate its EAFI support with other regional initiatives such as BASPA and general KBA and OECM support to African countries.