Conservation

BIRDLIFE SOUTH AFRICA WESTERN CAPE CONSERVATION PROGRAMME PROGRESS REPORT

Posted on the 18th February 2014

Progress Report for BirdLife South Africa’s Western Cape Conservation Programme
Project Title: Western Cape Regional Conservation Programme
Project Executant: Dale Wright, Regional Conservation Manager, BirdLife South Africa
Contact Details: dale.wright@birdlife.org.za / +27 72 562 3946
Winter Palace, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, Rhodes Ave, Newlands, Cape Town.
Reporting Period: January to December 2013
Executive Summary
BirdLife South Africa’s Regional Conservation Programme in the Western Cape got underway in January 2012 thanks primarily to the support of Mrs Gaynor Rupert and the Rupert Natuurstigting. The programme has strategically focused on the 22 Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) of the Western Cape and certain IBAs in the Eastern Cape. As a first step the Regional Conservation Manager, Dale Wright (DW), established working relationships with the relevant provincial conservation agencies, the City of Cape Town, academic institutions and a number of conservation focused NGOs. To date DW has conducted comprehensive IBA Assessments for 20 of the 23 IBAs in the Western Cape, and a further five in the Eastern Cape. These assessments have helped guide the Programme in its initial stages by identifying critical IBAs in need of conservation interventions. The successful raising of R3,000,000 for the Verlorenvlei Protected Areas Project represents the first step towards implementing one such conservation intervention at an IBA. The role out of the Biodiversity Stewardship project at the Verlorenvlei Estuary IBA, and its mountain catchment, Moutonshoek, from February 2014, will aim to formally protect these high biodiversity sites. The establishment of two Local Conservation Groups, the first of their kind in South Africa, with BirdLife Plettenberg Bay and BirdLife Eastern Cape will further assist in the conservation of our IBAs. Formal agreements with the City of Cape Town and the Overberg Lowlands Conservation Trust will guide the implementation of projects at the False Bay Ecology Park IBA and the Overberg wheat-belt IBA respectively. These sites will be among the focal areas of the Regional Conservation Programme for 2014, and planned projects include an information booklet for the Overberg region regarding threatened species and appropriate farm management actions, and fundraising for the False Bay Ecology Park IBA, as well as the hosting of the second annual False Bay IBA Fun Walk. DW has conducted a number of awareness raising activities, such as public presentations, publishing of popular articles, hosting events and radio interviews. These will all continue in 2014, as the awareness of BirdLife South Africa and IBA Programme is spread to new and diverse audiences. The financial support of the Rupert Natuurstigting has covered operational expenses of this programme, and through additional funds and the efficient use of existing funds a small surplus has been generated each year. This surplus is being applied directly to small scale conservation projects at IBAs, such as erecting signboards, printing information material or supporting critical academic research. The Regional Conservation Programme has grown enormously in the past two years, and a solid platform now exists to make a real difference to the conservation of the regions birds and their habitats.
Introduction
In 2011, BirdLife South Africa identified the Fynbos Biome as one of the most important areas for bird conservation in South Africa. The Fynbos holds over 9,600 different species of plant, and many species of animals that occur nowhere else in the world. This includes eight Fynbos bird species, such as the Cape Sugarbird and Orange-breasted Sunbird, which are endemic to this biome. There are also many large estuary systems and other wetlands in the Western Cape which host thousands of waterbirds. Many of these birds migrate here from the northern hemisphere, thus adding international importance to the work of BirdLife South Africa in the Western Cape. The many threatened birds and habitats of the region therefore warranted urgent conservation attention from BirdLife South Africa.
With a vested interest in the region and its birds, Mrs Gaynor Rupert pledged assistance, through the Rupert Natuurstigting, to support the BirdLife South Africa position of Regional Conservation Manager (RCM) in the Western Cape for a period of five years. Dale Wright (DW) was appointed in January 2012 and within the past two years has already grown the profile and conservation input of BirdLife South Africa in the Western Cape and parts of the Eastern Cape.
BirdLife South Africa’s goal is to ensure the best possible protection of the Western Cape’s Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs). There are 23 IBAs in the Western Cape which form part of a national network of 122 IBAs, and a global network of over 12,000. The Western Cape IBAs include a number of the majestic Cape Fold Mountains, such as the Swartberg and Langeberg, and many of the coastal estuaries such as Verlorenvlei and the Bot River estuary. The first year of the regional work focused on initiating BirdLife South Africa’s IBA Programme in the Western Cape and aligning the programme with the work of different conservation partners working across the Province.
The preliminary objectives are to conduct IBA assessments for all Western and relevant Eastern Cape (Fynbos) sites using the BirdLife International format. This enables us to identify threats and potential conservation actions for BirdLife South Africa to undertake at both the site and network scale.
In the second year of this regional work, 2013, BirdLife South Africa continues to see a growing understanding and awareness of the IBA Programme in the Western Cape amongst relevant role-players. The solid information platform and partnerships developed during the first year have now begun to lead to more tangible conservation projects at specific IBAs. The Regional Conservation Manager (RCM), DW, has continued with a number of awareness raising activities, both with civil society and government conservation agencies and NGOs (See Table 1 under Donor acknowledgements). DW also continues to comment on a number of development applications, including for proposed wind energy facilities, fracking, mining applications, power-lines and other infrastructure developments. The needs of the birds and biodiversity of South Africa must continually be weighed against development imperatives, and it is essential that high biodiversity areas receive the protection they require. Commenting on EIAs assists in directing development towards more sustainable outcomes and ensures that the needs of birds and their habitats are considered during development.
The completion of IBA assessments, as with other work programmes, is ongoing and has allowed DW to further his understanding of the threats, status and conservation actions currently being implemented in IBAs. These assessments introduce the RCM and the IBA Programme to the relevant local stakeholders, and identify points of engagement and potential conservation projects for BirdLife South Africa at the various IBAs. The completion of assessments has taken DW across the Western Cape and parts of the Eastern Cape, thus exposing many potential partners and members of civil society to the Programme. Work planned in 2014 will see the RCM extend his reach into parts of the Northern Cape to assist with the task of assessing all IBAs in South Africa by the end of 2014.
Highlights of 2013:
 DW received the Fynbos Forum “Young Conservator of the Year” Award
 Securing R3,000,000 to implement the Verlorenvlei Protected Environment Project. A Project Manager will be employed within BirdLife South Africa to run this project, and will report to DW.
 Hosting the first successful False Bay Ecology Park Fun Walk with 200 participants from local, impoverished communities.
 Co-supervision of a Stellenbosch Conservation Ecology Honours student who received an award for her management plan thesis.
 Signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Overberg Lowlands Conservation Trust for collaborative work in the Overberg Wheat-belt IBA.
 Establishment of the BirdLife Plettenberg Bay and BirdLife Eastern Cape Local Conservation Groups.
 Successful Environmental Education events hosted for World Wetlands Day, National Bird Week & participation in the Kirstenbosch Biodiversity Careers Day.
 Completion of 90% of the Western Cape Important Bird Area Assessments, together with a further five completed for the Eastern Cape.

Project outputs:
The below information describes the major outputs and focal areas of the regional work programme in 2013 and going forward. Although his efforts were somewhat hampered by a snapped Achilles tendon in early 2013, DW was able to fully reach all of his desired performance targets for the year. The outputs described below were combined with those described for the 2013 mid-year report, to produce this full year-end report. Each section below provides some background to a specific project followed by tangible outcomes of the project and the way forward for each in 2014.
A. DW has continued to focus on partnership building and the maintenance of existing partnerships in order to improve the reach of the Western Cape Regional Conservation Programme. Much conservation action, across all levels from local to global, is driven through partnerships, and thus this is a critical skill of any conservationist and an important tactic in achieving conservation success. DW’s work has focused on enhancing co-operation between BirdLife South Africa and the different national, provincial and local conservation agencies as well as NGOs. Specifically DW has;
I. Met and begun work with the relevant members of CapeNature including the Estuaries Manager, Ornithologist and Biodiversity Stewardship Manager, as well as nature reserve managers and ecological coordinators at specific nature reserves (Anysberg Nature Reserve, Swartberg Nature Reserve, De Mond Nature Reserve, Marloth Nature Reserve, Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve, Cederberg Wilderness Area, Jonkershoek Nature Reserve, Hottentots-Holland Nature Reserve). ii. Met and established communication with staff of the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency in order to facilitate work in the Baviaanskloof IBA and expand BirdLife South Africa’s presence in the Eastern Cape (Namely Wayne Erlank –manager of the Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve, and scientist Brian Reeves). iii. Met with members of the South African National Parks - Garden Route National Park Scientific Services Division, Camdeboo National Park Management staff and Karoo National Park senior rangers. DW also sits on the West Coast National Park Forum providing comments on bird conservation issues within the Park. iv. Established partnerships with both the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology and the Animal Demography Unit (ADU) of UCT’s Zoology Department are ongoing. Further partnerships are being developed with Stellenbosch University, Cape Peninsula University Technikon and UCT’s Environmental & Geographical Sciences department, to facilitate research projects focused on addressing knowledge gaps facing the IBA Programme. Discussions have also been held with lecturers from UCT based at the FitzPatrick Institute, and the Department of Zoology to obtain funding and supervision for a post-doctoral research project investigating the genetics of certain Fynbos endemic bird species. DW successfully co-supervised a Stellenbosch University Conservation Ecology Honours student. Bianca Pronk completed a Fire Management Plan for the False Bay Ecology Park as her thesis, and received an award for the Best Management Plan of 2013. v. Other partnerships relating to specific projects are described in more detail under each project. (These pertain specifically to the partnerships with the City of Cape Town, Overberg Lowlands Conservation Trust & WESSA.) B. The False Bay Ecology Park (FBEP) is one of two “Urban IBAs” located within the boundaries of the City of Cape Town. This site includes Rondevlei and Zeekoevlei Nature Reserves and the Strandfontein sewage works and will soon be designated a Provincial Nature Reserve. A Ramsar application has also been submitted to the National Department of Environmental Affairs, which will afford the site recognition as a globally important wetland. Such urban sites provide an ideal platform for raising awareness of birds and bird conservation. The FBEP also hosts large numbers of congregatory birds (more than 20 000 waterbirds at a time), and thus provides important habitat to a number of different species. In order to improve the conservation status of the site and raise awareness of its importance, BirdLife South Africa has signed a formal Memorandum of Understanding with the City of Cape Town and Cape Bird Club regarding the management of the FBEP IBA. DW continues to oversee the implementation of this MoU with the partners, and this remains a priority project for 2014. BirdLife South Africa’s major role in this partnership includes; i. Raising funds for conservation projects at the FBEP. A detailed funding proposal has been drafted, which outlines major skills development and environmental education projects to be undertaken at the FBEP and working with the surrounding communities. The Cape Bird Club commissioned a high quality video production which showcases the planned projects at the FBEP, and highlights the difference that these projects can make for the local communities. The video forms part of a presentation, which has been fine-tuned and is now being used to attempt to raise the necessary funds at FBEP. ii. DW led the organization of the first annual False Bay Ecology Park Fun Walk, which took place on 4 May 2013. Planning is underway for the second annual Fun Walk in 2014, which is promising to expand and improve on the success of the first event. iii. As mentioned, a successful Stellenbosch University Honours student project was completed at the FBEP in 2013. DW has already begun canvasing this, and other universities, to conduct research at this interesting site. C. The eight Fynbos endemic bird species represent a conservation priority for this regional work. These species occur nowhere else in the world and are dependent on very specific habitat types, whilst facing numerous threats such as climate change and land transformation. Dr Alan Lee of the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology has begun research on these species, investigating their population size and movements. As this represents a priority area for BirdLife South Africa, a MOU was signed with Dr Lee regarding the Fynbos Endemic Birds and Climate Change Project. DW has initiated a further collaboration at UCT which will hopefully lead to a post-doctoral research project investigating the genetic structuring of populations of the different Fynbos endemic bird species. Alan Lee & DW have made articles available for publication in African Birdlife and will continue to do so in 2014. DW will also provide funding to this project in 2014, to further address data gaps in the research programme and assist with collecting the samples necessary for a genetic analysis. D. The estuary systems of South Africa are currently regarded as one of the most threatened habitat types, incurring large levels of transformation. These estuaries and wetlands provide important habitats to a high diversity of birds and often host large numbers of each species. DW has therefore prioritized certain Western Cape estuaries for conservation action. Verlorenvlei estuary sits on the West Coast of South Africa near the town of Elands Bay. The estuary is under threat from unsustainable farming practices and potential mining developments. In order to conserve this IBA, BirdLife South Africa established a partnership with the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA). The two NGOs drafted a joint funding proposal to WWF-SA & Nedbank Green Trust to employ a conservation stewardship officer in the Moutonshoek catchment and Verlorenvlei Estuary areas and manage the project aimed at formally protecting these sites through Biodiversity Stewardship. In order to successfully conserve the estuary, it is essential that its mountain catchment also be conserved. Biodiversity Stewardship is a novel approach to conservation in which a private landowner signs a title deed restriction which essentially places a portion of their land under conservation protection. The conservation officer to be employed will engage with local farmers to sign certain portions of their properties into a larger Protected Environment. The funding proposal drafted primarily by DW and submitted to the WWF-SA Nedbank Green Trust for R3,000,000 to undertake the above mentioned work over a period of 3 years has been successful. The new Verlorenvlei Protected Areas Project Manager, Samantha Schroder will begin work in February 2014. This position is based within BirdLife South Africa and DW will act as the direct manager of this position, with input from other partners such as WESSA and CapeNature. This will be a high priority project for the regional programme over the next three years. E. DW has met and made presentations to all the regional bird clubs in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape Provinces. In order to further improve the conservation work undertaken by BirdLife South Africa’s bird clubs DW has begun establishing Local Conservation Groups (LCGs) at interested bird clubs. LCGs are local, volunteer based groups that will provide conservation and monitoring support at specific IBAs. This can allow for increased conservation action across the Province and increased local awareness of birds and bird conservation. BirdLife Plettenberg Bay was approached in March 2013 and shortly thereafter an official Terms of Reference and various activities were outlined for South Africa’s first Local Conservation Group. DW subsequently met with BirdLife Eastern Cape and drafted a Terms of Reference for their newly established Local Conservation Group. These LCGs have been linked to their local IBAs; Tsitsikamma IBA for BirdLife Plettenberg & Maitland-Gamtoos Coast IBA for BirdLife Eastern Cape. The activities they have planned include monitoring of trigger bird species at the IBA, commenting on and alerting BirdLife South Africa to development applications in the area and establishing local scale conservation projects. The monitoring and improved protection for the Keurbooms river Kelp Gull colony is a priority for the Plettenberg LCG, whilst a beach clean-up and bird count along the Maitland coast is being planned by BirdLife Eastern Cape for 2014. It is hoped that these LCGs will inspire other bird clubs in the region to form similar groups, thus extending the impact of the Regional Conservation Programme. The Western Cape Regional Conservation Programme funded two information signboards at the Keurbooms estuary Kelp Gull colony in December 2013. These boards were produced to raise awareness of the colony, to reduce disturbance from people in the area, and raise awareness of the bird conservation work underway at this site. DW has prioritized working with these two existing LCGs and establishing one further LCG in the region in 2014. In addition, DW will aim to have both LCGs initiate tangible conservation projects in the IBAs in their area of operation. F. BirdLife South Africa and the Overberg Lowlands Conservation Trust (OLCT) have drafted and signed a MoU for collaborative work in the Overberg Wheat-belt IBA. The Overberg region provides important habitat to a large number of terrestrial birds, including bustards, Secretarybirds and Blue Cranes. In addition, this region contains some of the last remaining fragments of the critically endangered Renosterveld vegetation. This partnership will be focused on raising funds for implementing conservation stewardship in the region, and also developing and distributing information on environmentally sustainable agriculture to local farmers. The partnership has gained interest from BirdLife Overberg who is hosting a golf day in 2014 to raise funds for work to be undertaken by BLSA & the OLCT, in addition to supporting Black Harrier research. DW and the director of the OLCT, Dr Odette Curtis, have planned to produce a small field guide to the threatened fauna and flora of the Overberg, coupled with management actions to improve the landscape for biodiversity, and distribute this document to farmers across the region. A second priority project in this collaboration involves the development of conservation easements, which are used to secure parcels of land for conservation on private farms. Easements have been applied elsewhere in the world in biodiversity stewardship, but this will represent the first test of this conservation model in South Africa. G. BirdLife International has identified c.12,000 IBAs across the globe. In order to best understand and manage these areas the International partnership relies on local country partners to gather information and monitor the status and trends of the IBAs. A standardized scientific assessment form was developed to allow for comparable results to be collected for all IBAs. This IBA Assessment form rates the threats affecting an IBA, documents the status of the bird species and habitats and records all conservation action being implemented at the IBA. With the development of the National IBA Programme, it was important for BirdLife South Africa to update the information on our 122 IBAs. These assessments also provide the regional managers with an opportunity to gain first-hand knowledge of the area and the different stakeholders involved. DW has made IBA Assessments a priority of his work during the first period of the regional programme. Thus far (including those of 2012) DW has;  Completed 20 IBA Assessments for the Western Cape Province.  Completed 5 IBA Assessments for the Eastern Cape Province.  Planned a further three IBA assessments for the Western Cape, two for the Eastern Cape and two for the Northern Cape in 2014, in order to assist the National Manager with the target of assessing 100% of South Africa’s IBAs by the end of 2014. Project challenges: To date, there have been no major constraints affecting the work of the Western Cape RCM. One major constraint is a lack of funding to undertake conservation projects at specific IBAs; all current Western Cape Programme funding is applied to operational costs and indeed no work would be possible without this. The Regional Conservation Manager continues to draft and submit a variety of funding proposals for different sites. In addition, efficient use of the operational budget provided by the Rupert Nature Foundation has allowed for funds to be allocated to specific small scale conservation projects which will be undertaken in 2014. DW’s ultimate aim is to keep operational costs low, without compromising work outputs, to allow for these funds to be re-directed to more critical conservation work. Donor acknowledgement: BirdLife South Africa endeavors to acknowledge the support of its donors wherever possible. The Table below illustrates the full media and marketing output of the regional programme in 2013. In addition to the below activities the IBA Programme has also designed and begun distributing IBA information brochures for each Province and plans to install a number of information signboards at relevant IBAs across the country. DW has already begun approaching partners and bird clubs to both sponsor and host these signboards.

Media and marketing engagements completed in 2013. 

Public presentations: Twelve (Bird Clubs, Zandvlei Trust, Kromme river Trust, Probus Tokai, Signal Hill Rotary Club, Herschel Girls Primary School, Redham Junior School)
E-newsletter articles: Four  (Two IBA Programme electronic newsletters and Two BirdLife South Africa electronic newsletters) 
Print articles: Five (Cape Times, African Birdlife magazine, West Coast newspapers) 
Bird Conservation: Four (Intaka Island Eco-centre during BirdLife South Africa’s bird week, FBEP Fun Walk)


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