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.

The Regional Conservation Programme (RCP) 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. Dr Simeon Bezeng has supported a number of countries, particularly in Africa, to initiate national KBA Programmes through various trainings and workshops, some of which include: Zambia, Botswana, Cameroon, Gabon, Angola, Ghana, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Mozambique, Madagascar and Malawi. Dr Simeon Bezeng is also supporting the KBA Committee to entrench KBAs in the CBD Post-2020 targets.

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

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.


If you would like to Join the KBA Community click here
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Only about 5% of African parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) have geospatial biodiversity data that can be used to inform wise land-use decisions and policies, as well as to promote conservation actions in order to meet the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets and 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The fundamental building block for the geographic identification of biodiversity priorities is the assessment of the status of species and ecosystems at the country level. Systematic evaluations of both species and ecosystems, on the African continent, have only been conducted in South Africa and Uganda thus far. They are urgently needed in other countries to aid decision-makers with selecting places for conservation amidst increasing pressures on biodiversity.


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’s project report is available, click the button below. 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 Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) 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. This protocol will be applied to our new OECM project, the Western Cape OECM project, funded by the WWF Nedbank Green Trust. The project’s aim is to identify and assess possible OECMs in the Western Cape, with the first priority being the analysis and reporting of existing, qualifying conservation areas. This project will also look to understand and quantify the capacity and resource requirements needed for assessing OECMs in the province, as well as provide training to key stakeholders to support the assessment and reporting of OECMS in the Western Cape. Click the button below to read the Western Cape OECM Project Concept Note.

Each year many millions of shorebirds and landbirds migrate from their northern breeding grounds in Eurasia to wintering areas in western and southern Africa. Many of these birds travel thousands of kilometres along the flyway and rely on a series of high quality coastal and inland sites as stop over points to feed and rest. The East Atlantic Flyway (EAF) is the network of stepping stone sites used each year by these migrating birds. Many of these coastal and inland terrestrial, stop over sites are also important for humans, providing resources, livelihoods and economic development. Unfortunately, due to numerous threats, many of the bird populations in this flyway are in decline.

The BirdLife partnership has established the East Atlantic Flyway Initiative (EAFI) to facilitate the monitoring of birds and sites, identify conservation priorities and increase capacity for conservation along the Flyway. Collaboration with country partners and organizations working along the flyway is key to the implementation of successful conservation initiatives to address the key threats facing biodiversity and landscapes. BirdLife South Africa, with funding from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), has appointed Bronwyn Maree, as the EAFI Project Manager. She will assist in the southern African region (Angola, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe) with the identification of threats to priority bird species and sites along the flyway, the delineation of Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), safeguarding of these important sites and fundraising for priority projects along the Flyway.

Key objectives for the EAFI project are to:
• Engage key stakeholders and country-based partners to clearly understand the existing capacity and projects, as well as opportunities and areas to enhance biodiversity information, which can be used to inform government and development decision-making and reporting.

• Partner with, and support countries, in understanding and reporting their biodiversity, through strengthening technical capacity, through training of country-based officials to enable them to:

♦ Improve the knowledge of the key threats for species along the flyway, as well as the appropriate conservation actions required to reduce these threats. Threats facing waterbirds, as well as the conservation interventions required, are relatively well known, but for land-birds, more data is needed. Establish species monitoring and research of threatened and common bird species to better understand trends of, and threats to, these species. If the impact of these threats are reduced, the resilience of populations along the flyway can improve.

♦ Improve the conservation and management of important sites and habitats for migratory birds through the identification and delineation of KBAs. Support will be provided to establish KBA NCGs and training in the application of the KBA Global Standard will be provided.

♦ Develop and customise a methodology to identify, assess and recognize OECMs, to expand the network of protected and conserved areas, by safeguarding important areas (such as KBAs).

♦ Influence policy on a national, regional and global level and support partners in their own countries to ensure better protection for migratory species.

• Jointly with country-based partners, aim to raise funding required to achieve these objectives.

• Promote the work of the Flyway and demonstrate the value of coordination of actions across the Flyway.

For more information on the exceptional work being undertaken by the Partners along EAFI, read the latest EAFI e-newsletters here.

How can you help?

As a birder, one of the most valuable contributions you can make is to ensure that the information you collect whilst birding is recorded and put to good use. Your time and inputs could have an extremely valuable outcome for the conservation of birds and their habitats. Whether it is the collection of data on migrant bird species, or common bird species, this information can provide valuable information, such as the trends of a particular species over time, arrival and departure dates for migrants and changes in the ranges of particular species.

So why not ‘bird with a purpose’ and combine your birding passion with vluable data collection? Below are some of the projects or initiatives which you could become involved in:

1. Coordinated Waterbird Counts (CWAC)

The Coordinated Waterbird Counts (CWAC) was launched in 1992. The objective of CWAC is to monitor South Africa’s waterbird populations and the conditions of the wetlands which are important for waterbirds.

This is being done by means of a programme of regular mid-summer (January) and mid-winter (July) censuses at many South African wetlands and estuaries. CWAC currently monitors approximately 350 wetlands around the country and curates waterbird data for over 600 sites.

Since 2018 CWAC is managed by the University of Cape Town's FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology.

Click here to find out more about how you can get involved.

2. South African Bird Atlas Project 2 (SABAP2)

The Southern African Bird Atlas Project 2 aims to map the distribution and relative abundance of birds in southern Africa. In addition, it aims to show change in distribution over time, an important aim, as this data can for example help us to understand the impact on climate change on birds. SABAP2 was launched in 2007 and is one of the longest running bird monitoring projects in the world. It is also possible to compare SABAP2 data with SABAP1 data (collected in the 1980/90), which makes these datasets extremely valuable.

Data is collected through the “citizen scientists” in the field, generally on a bird watching outing where the species seen or heard are recorded according to a specific protocol that is meaningful to the final output of the project. Usually, the area that the data is collected in, and the time spent in the area is recorded. In the case of SABAP2, the area for data collection is named a “Pentad”, which is an area of 5 minutes of longitude by 5 minutes of latitude. The minimum time period that should be spent collecting data for a full protocol atlas card is 2 hours.

The data are then submitted to SABAP2 using a mobile app or a website. The information is used for research and analysis by several different agencies, including the South African National Biodiversity Institute, BirdLife South Africa, as well as academics and students at various universities.

3. Birding Apps

Birding applications are a convenient and paperless way to record your sightings, especially while out in the field. Many applications are also linked to or provide the opportunity to share the data with monitoring programmes (such as SABAP2 mentioned above). One such birding app is BirdLasser ( BirdLasser supports SABAP2 and BirdMAP (atlas projects within other regions of Africa).

Keep an eye out on BirdLasser for ‘Causes’ (which may focus on a particular species) or ‘Play’ (which may include a challenge for a particular period, such as Big Birding Day or World Migratory Bird Day).

4. World Migratory Bird Day

Every year since 2006, the world celebrates World Migratory Bird Day (WBMD) on the second Saturdays in May and October, to accommodate the cyclical nature of the long-haul migration of migratory birds along a number of flyways. WMBD is a global awareness campaign dedicated to raising awareness of migratory birds, as well as the importance of working across boundaries, through international cooperation, to conserve them.

Keep a look out on BirdLIfe South Africa’s Facebook page for any events which may be organized to celebrate WMBD, especially towards October, when the migrants arrive in our beautiful country. For more information visit the WMBD website:

Join the Regional Conservation Programme team at Flock to the Wilderness 2023 from 24 to 28 May at the Wilderness Hotel.
Join Dr Simmy Bezeng and Dr Daniele Baisero for the KBA pre-congress workshop at ICCB 2023 in Kigali, Rwanda on 22 and 23 July. Register now for this Key Biodiversity Areas Pre-Congress training if you would like to learn how to identify globally important sites for biodiversity.
For more info contact: