Meet the Team

Terrestrial Bird Conservation Programme

(left to right) Carina Coetzer; Dr Hanneline Smit-Robinson; Linda van den Heever; Dr Melissa Whitecross; Samanatha Ralston and Robin Colyn

Dr Hanneline Smit-Robinson

Manager: Terrestrial Bird Conservation Programme / Oppenheimer Fellow of Conservation

Dr Hanneline Smit-Robinson, Oppenheimer Fellow of Conservation, heads BirdLife South Africa’s Terrestrial Bird Conservation Programme and the conservation of the country’s threatened terrestrial bird species is her key responsibility. Hanneline has nine years of species conservation and management. Several projects are undertaken under the auspices of the global BirdLife International Preventing Extinctions Programme. Current projects include research and conservation for:  White-winged Flufftail; Taita Falcon; Secretarybird; Southern Banded Snake Eagle and Southern Bald Ibis. BirdLife South Africa’s work to minimise the impacts of renewable energy on birds also forms part of the focus of the Terrestrial Bird Conservation Programme. Hanneline is passionate about the environment and to making a difference through conservation initiatives. Hanneline describes birding as a favourite pastime.

Linda van den Heever

Vulture Project Manager 

Linda is running BirdLife South Africa’s project looking into the effects of lead toxicosis in South Africa’s bird species, with the aim to eventually pinpoint the source of the lead poisoning and finding ways to mitigate its impacts. She is also investigating the status of the Black Stork in South Africa, and manages various administrative tasks related to the Terrestrial Bird Conservation Programme, including the organisation of the biennial Learn About Birds Conference and the annual Flufftail Festival.

Dr Melissa Whitecross

Threatened Species Project Manager: Raptors & Large Terrestrial Birds

Melissa completed her PhD in savanna ecology at Wits in 2017 and joined the Terrestrial Bird Conservation Programme team on a one-year internship during 2017. In January 2018 she joined the team permanently as the Threatened Species Project Manager. Melissa is responsible for projects supporting the conservation of the Secretarybird, Black Stork, Black Harrier, Taita Falcon, and Southern Banded Snake Eagle. Melissa is also the lead researcher on the ACSA Grey-headed Gull tracking project. Melissa is a knowledgable birdwatcher and assists with the stream of bird identification requests that are sent to BirdLife South Africa.

Robin Colyn

KEM-JV Fellow of Conservation 

Robin is responsible for providing scientific input into and coordinating ecological monitoring and research on arid bird species in the Northern Cape including Red Lark, Sclater’s Lark and Ludwig’s Bustard. Robin also assists the team with complex remote sensing and modelling skills which can be used to determine ideal habitat requirements for species.

Sam Ralston-Paton

Birds and Renewable Energy Project Manager

Samantha 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 13 years’ experience in environmental management. She is passionate about environmental sustainability, and enjoys challenging herself, and other people, to have a more positive impact on the planet.

Carina Coetzer

Ingula Project Manager 

As Ingula Project Manager, Carina is primarily tasked with monitoring the avian populations on the newly declared Ingula Nature Reserve. This includes habitat management for three habitat types on site (grasslands, escarpment forests, and wetlands), monitoring breeding populations of several threatened species, monthly avifaunal surveys, implementing and updating Species Action Plans, and managing the national Southern Bald Ibis database. She is also assisting in the Wilge Stewardship Initiative, aimed at declaring the Greater Wilge catchment surrounding the upper site of Ingula as a Protected Environment. In doing so, this will add value to the protection of South Africa’s highly threatened grasslands.