23-27 March 2020


The Seabird Conservation Programme successfully transitioned to a remote work setup under the COVID-19 circumstances and the need for social-distancing. The team operates over remote work schedules to check on daily progress and is in regular communication with each other using various IT platforms. We have set out to develop contingency plans for our projects and to engage with stakeholders and funders during these challenging times.

Albatross Task Force

The team has been preparing for national lockdown and remote working protocols. While the ATF will during this time not be able to engage directly with fisheries stakeholders or conduct work at sea, we have engaged with various stakeholders on how to move forward with projects and contingency plans. Reason Nyengera met with the Ocean View Association for Persons with Disabilities to find ways to assist the centre during this time as their members will lose their only source of income, an invaluable contribution to their families.

Mouse-Free Marion

Nini van der Merwe, Alistair McInnes, Andrea Angel and Christina Hagen had a meeting to discuss the budgets for the M-FM project. Nini also spent some time working on the National Geographic grant and making sure the reporting requirements are met.  Nini has been in touch with the web developer and will be working on the website with him over the next few weeks.

Gough Island Restoration Programme

Nini has been investigating options for importing and storing the bait for the project, which has already been shipped from New Zealand. She has also been working with the programme team to investigate options for getting the aviculture and construction team back to South Africa.

Coastal Seabirds

Christina helped get the team properly set up for remote working and collaboration and sorted through several hundred hours of video footage from CCTV cameras at De Hoop to find clips to train a machine-learning algorithm to process future footage automatically. Andrew de Blocq worked on a literature review of non-breeding seabird tracking research. He also attended to vehicle and Atlas of Seabirds At Sea administration tasks.


Melissa Howes-Whitecross attended several Zoom meetings with staff from BirdLife South Africa as we all settle into the new remote working situation. Melissa coordinated a team meeting for all of the Landscape Conservation Programme (LCP) staff. Melissa reviewed budgets for the various projects within the LCP and completed the BirdLife South Africa Climate Change questionnaire. Melissa completed a progress report on the Southern Banded Snake Eagle project for the BirdLife South Africa Ethics Committee.

Saving Species

Linda van den Heever analysed data collected to investigate the sub-lethal impacts of lead poisoning on White-backed Vulture chicks. She had a Skype meeting with Prof. Vinny Naidoo (Onderstepoort) to discuss the outcomes and attended to various matters related to the BirdLife South Africa Animal Ethics Committee. Carina Coetzer, Melissa, Kyle Walker, Hanneline Smit-Robinson and Mark Anderson attended and provided input into the quarterly Ingula Partnership meeting. Carina analysed and commenced with the writing of the Ingula monthly and quarterly reports, and drafted a proposal to include the Southern Bald Ibis as a species under the protection of the  African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA).  Kyle finished a cover letter for the Pied Crow workshop invitation and sent a completed article on the Taita Falcon survey to Safari News. He completed the BirdLife South Africa questionnaire on Climate Change and added notes to the Climate Change position statement. Some small tasks included searching for accommodation in the Mtunzini/ Richards Bay area for the Southern Banded Snake Eagle survey. Kyle also completed a staff bio to be used for presentations. Elelwani Makhuvha presented her work on Keeping Common Birds Common to Melissa and Hanneline via Zoom and continued to work on the project’s concept notes. She worked on the Landscape Conservation Programme’s showcasing successes draft document and various webpage updates.

Protecting Habitats

Giselle Murison met with landowners at the Berg River estuary this week as part of BirdLife South Africa’s estuarine habitat rehabilitation pilot project. She visited sites with significant erosion and riparian habitat loss and discussed with farmers the potential causes and rate of bank loss. These areas were then incorporated into the spatial database of erosion sensitive areas currently being mapped by the project. Giselle also met with landowners at the Klein River estuary to discuss the process for declaring their properties as protected areas using biodiversity stewardship. She visited the site of the existing bird sanctuary at the Klein River estuary to record the specific locations of current and future sanctuary markers/ signage. Giselle spent the rest of the week drafting a funding proposal for a protected area expansion project at the Klein River estuary. Steve McKean facilitated the legally required annual management meeting for the newly declared Trewirgie Nature Reserve on 23 March. Trewirgie is an important mistbelt grassland and a key area for Blue Swallows. The new Nature Reserve signs were also handed to the landowners, the Seele family. Blue Swallow monitoring has ended for this season as of 26 March due to the inability to travel as a result of the national lockdown. However, three fledged chicks were reported this week from Roselands which is positive news. We have found no other breeding activity in other areas in late March and it’s likely that the birds are preparing for their annual migration.

Renewable energy

Samantha Ralston-Paton and Ernst Retief met with Anne Trainor (The Nature Conservancy) to discuss a project to integrate the biodiversity in renewable energy siting plans in the Southern Africa Power Pool. Samantha followed up by sharing additional thoughts, contacts and resources. She also met with Chaona Phiri (BirdLife Zambia) and Rachael Cooper-Bohannon (Bats without Borders) to discuss supporting  Zambia Environmental Management Agency to respond to the environmental challenges associated with wind energy. Samantha compiled a questionnaire to gather the opinion and recommendations of BirdLife South Africa staff members regarding BirdLife South Africa’s role in mitigating climate change.


Regional and Global Key Biodiversity Areas

Daniel Marnewick met with Peace Parks Foundation to assess the viability of assessing Zinave and Banhine National Parks as Key Biodiversity Areas.

Biodiversity Assessment for Spatial Prioritisation in Africa (BASPA)

Simeon Bezeng sent review comments to lead assessors of small mammals and butterflies Red List assessments in Kenya. Simeon held a preparatory meeting with a subset of the Red List Committee members to discuss and get inputs on the Terms of reference for a new SSC group “National Species Authority” and understanding what synergies exist between National Red Listing and KBA processes. He shared experiences on Red List and KBA work in Africa.

Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures

Daniel met with the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) to discuss supporting OECM training in various African countries.

East Atlantic Flyway Initiative

Daniel, Hanneline and Isabel Human, with RSPB colleagues, conducted interviews for the EAFI project manager position.


Hiral Naik began working on marketing material for the Phil Liggett Bush Cycle 2020 event and she also worked on updating the BirdLife South Africa website.


Robin Colyn finalised the review, update and submission of IUCN Red List account for 13 threatened bird species. The framework for a funding proposal for the conservation modelling project was finalised this week, which aims to secure funding to allow for the expansion of the conservation modelling project. The expansion will allow for the generation of a number of critical biodiversity spatial planning products that will promote more efficient representation of threatened and endemic bird species into conservation spatial planning on national, provincial and local scales. Robin made significant progress this week on the model validation framework that will be used to test the accuracy of modelled products being created. Furthermore, he finalised density models for three flagship endemic grassland species as part of the Mesic highland grassland project. On Sunday Ernst returned from a successful SABAP2 atlas bash in the Waterberg. The purpose of the atlas bash was to support the work done by Warwick and Michele Tarboton in the Waterberg System IBA. He submitted five full protocol cards. Also linked to SABAP2, he completed the minutes of the last SABAP2 Steering Committee. Ernst downloaded more threatened species data from the BirdLasser database. This data will feed into the Species Distribution Models (SDMs). Ernst continued to test how SABAP2 data can be used to validate SDMs. He also completed several ad-hoc tasks such as a report to RMB, funding proposals, setting up regional atlas committee meetings and assisting Michael Brooks to resolve issues on the SABAP2 website. Nolumanyano Camagu continued with creating SDMs for the Conservation Modelling Project. She also had a Skype meeting with Robin to discuss the modelling of species habitats.



Hiral Naik went through various advocacy emails to assess any cases that needed comments on behalf of BirdLife South Africa. She also spent time organising the advocacy inbox and database.


Hanneline Smit-Robinson attended several Zoom meetings with Senior Management, Programme Managers and other staff this week as we transitioned into a remote working situation. These meetings included a discussion with Melissa and Kyle regarding BirdLife South Africa’s Species Guardians, and BirdLife International’s Preventing Extinctions Programme. Hanneline chaired the quarterly Ingula Partnership meeting, also attended by Carina, Melissa, Kyle, and Mark. Hanneline, with Daniel, Isabel and RSPB colleagues, conducted interviews for the EAFI Project Manager position. Hanneline also worked on final preparations for the Policy and Advocacy Programme Manager and Avitourism Project Manager interviews that will take place next week.


The Wakkerstroom Centre saw its last guests leave on Wednesday.  We are officially under quarantine and all our staff are safely at home.  Kristi Garland spent most of this week catching up on administrative tasks for both the Centre and the Seme Fire Protection Association.  She also spent the last day of normal movements, Thursday, out in the field.  We are currently looking at changing one of the CAR routes in the area and this was the perfect opportunity to travel the new suggested route.  We hope to have this approved and in place for an inaugural autumn count once the lock down has been lifted.  Kristi also initiated a Lock Down garden bird challenge with the Wakkerstroom residents to help pass the next 21-days.  Thus far records have been submitted from eight residents and we hope for more participation as time goes on.  The Working on Fire team has received directive to be on standby, from their homes, over the lock down period.  Kristi is in communication with the whole team and should the need arise, the team would be ready to be dispatched within two hours.  Kristi has also been attending to a range of smaller maintenance tasks around the Centre.


Julie Bayley prepared the Social Media calendar for April. She is assisting with additional posts for Facebook for additional interaction with the community during the 21 days of lockdown. She has developed a database for BirdLife South Africa event attendees, she will be populating this with contact details collected over the years from previous events held. She is preparing an example of the online shop that will be planned to be used for the Flock to Marion merchandise to be presented to the Flock Organising Committee next week.


Mark Anderson had a number of Zoom meetings with various staff members during the week. He also contacted about 100 donors and collaborators to explain our current remote working procedures.

Be safe everyone and, while you’re in lockdown, enjoy your garden birds.