BirdLife International, one of the largest conservation alliances in the world with over 120 country members recently confirmed that the Overstrand municipal area has been proclaimed as an Important Bird Area. The conservation of birds and their habitats is enhanced considerably by the registration of Important Bird Areas under the auspices of BirdLife International. IBAs are selected according to criteria determined by BLI and applied internationally. The application of these criteria in each country is deemed to be of crucial importance for the conservation of birds and their habitats on a global scale. The international IBA program is aimed at the protection of important bird sites by designating areas for the conservation of natural resources, and regulating and managing them according to the needs of the biodiversity they contain. The registration of any IBA uses site-based priorities for birds, using information such as lists of birds found in the area and critical habitats that are globally threatened or have small global ranges.
It is well-known that the area included in the Overstrand municipality hosts a range of bird species that are endemic to the southern African sub-region and therefore found nowhere else on earth. Three major groups of birds are of critical importance in this regard. Firstly, there are birds that are exclusively associated with the Cape Floral Kingdom, popularly known as the 'Fynbos specials'. Here one thinks of species such as the Cape Rock-Jumper, Cape Siskin, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Protea Seed-eater, Victorine's Warbler and several others. Secondly, there are several species that are endemic to the Benguela current system along the Cape West Coast and that are also found along the Overstrand coastline. Here one thinks of species such as Cape Cormorant, Crowned Cormorant, Bank Cormorant, Hartlaub's Gull, African Penguin, Cape Gannet and African Black Oystercatcher. Thirdly, there is a group of birds that is endemic to southern Africa and these birds are found in a variety of habitats in the Overstrand. Here one thinks of species such as Cape Bulbul, Southern Black Korhaan, White-backed Mousebird, Karoo Prinia, Cape Spurfowl, Southern Double-collared Sunbird and many more. Add to this the fact that the largest population of Blue Cranes in the world is found in the Overberg, and it becomes evident that the Overstrand certainly complies to the criteria for registration as an IBA under the auspices of BLI.
The region is further known for internationally acclaimed birding destinations. These include fynbos reserves and areas such the famous Rooiels site, the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens, and the Fernkloof, Walker Bay and Salmonsdam Nature Reserves. Three major estuaries at Botrivier, Kleinrivier and Uilenskraalsmond are great habitats for water birds, waders and summer migrants. Stony Point and Dyer Island represent top breeding sites for ocean birds. This, together with the area's reputation as one of the top land-based whale watching destinations, outstanding wine estates and fully established tourism infrastructure, makes the region a must to conserve and visit. Members of BirdLife Overberg have over the last year added significantly to the marketing of the Overberg region as a top birding destination by publishing the third edition of the birds of the Overberg and by releasing the 'birdfinder brochure' for the Overberg region.
Three IBAs have previously been registered in the Overstrand region, or parts thereof. These are the Eastern False Bay Mountains (SA 107), Botriviervlei and the Kleinmond Estuary (SA 118) and Dyer Island Nature Reserve (SA 120). Some years ago, members of BirdLife Overberg, CapeNature, the Overstrand municipality and Neil Smith, the previous conservation manager of BirdLife South Africa, systematically compiled documentation in support of an IBA application to have the entire Overstrand municipal area declared as an IBA. This application was initially submitted to the African Secretariate of BLI and then to BirdLife International. The application was approved and the Overstrand has now been proclaimed as southern Africa's latest Important Bird Area! This should further enhance the area's reputation as a responsible conservation region, as well as a top tourism destination. It will certainly give massive support to Birdlife Overberg's efforts to market the Overstrand, as well as the broader Overberg region as a top bird watching destination.