Posted on the 21st December 2015

(Herewith Dale Wright's report for 2015. Pay particular attention to the section on Hottentot Buttonquail research as members of BirdLife Overberg have donated R 30,000.00 towards this programme. We will also present our charity golf day on 26 May 2016 in view of raising further funds to support this important cause. - Ed.)

Western Cape Regional Conservation Programme
December 2015 Progress Update
The Western Cape Regional Conservation Programme continues to grow from strength to strength, with some exciting new developments during 2015. These developments are briefly outlined below.

1. Launch of the revised Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas Directory and first IBA Status Report for South Africa
The past four years have seen BirdLife South Africa’s Regional Conservation Managers and multiple partner organisations and volunteers undertaking IBA Assessments at all 124 of South Africa’s IBAs. This mammoth task provided the data for a full revision of South Africa’s IBA Directory, and led to the publication of a new directory which includes updated information of species lists, geographic boundaries and conservation threats and actions at each IBA. Alongside the new Directory, the first ever Status Report for our country’s IBAs was produced. This report outlined the most threatened habitat types and most prolific threats, whilst also providing recommendations to government on necessary conservation actions. Major changes for the Western Cape include the expansion of the Tsitsikamma - Plettenberg Bay IBA and the amalgamation of existing IBAs into two new sites, namely the Cape Whale Coast IBA and the Agulhas Plain – Heuningnes Estuary IBA.

2. Protecting Western Cape Estuaries
The Western Regional Programme was earlier this year successful in obtaining funds from the WWF-SA Elizabeth Harding Bequest for bird conservation, resulting in the launch of the Western Cape Estuary Conservation Project in July. This is the second protected area expansion project in the region and will tackle the ambitious aim of ensuring long-term, formal conservation protection for the Berg River Estuary IBA, Klein River Estuary IBA and potentially two other IBAs in the Western Cape. Dr Giselle Murison is managing the project and has already made great strides in building relationships with landowners and government officials in the project domain. Alongside this project, the Verlorenvlei Protected Areas Project is continuing well, and nearing the stage of proclamation for the intent to declare the Moutonshoek Protected Environment, whilst also having completed a detailed needs analysis of landowners at the Verlorenvlei estuary which will be used to guide future conservation actions at the site. A Conservancy for the area is planned as the next step towards proper management and conservation of the Verlorenvlei Estuary. The regional manager is now in discussions with partners in the garden route area to launch a similar project focused on the Outeniqua Mountains, Wilderness – Sedgefield Lakes and Tsitsikamma – Plettenberg Bay IBAs.

3. Launch of the Hottentot Buttonquail Research and Conservation Project
Dr Alan Lee (AL) and Dale Wright (DW) have continued their work on the Fynbos endemic bird species, research which started four years ago. In discussions last year they both realised that the Hottentot Buttonquail represented an extremely under-studied and little known species, whose conservation status warrants immediate attention. They developed the necessary research project and DW took to the task of raising the funds needed to make this project a reality. To date they have surveyed over 120 km of fynbos habitats in search of this elusive species, with only a handful of encounters. The project is ongoing and aims to potentially understand population density and habitat associations for the species, in order to inform appropriate conservation action. AL has also now completed aspects of his research on the other fynbos endemic birds and DW is using this knowledge to develop a habitat management guideline and information brochure for interested landowners and conservation agencies.

4. Success of the Birdathon and ongoing False Bay Nature Reserve Project
The dynamic partnership between BirdLife South Africa, the City of Cape Town and Cape Bird Club once again led to the successful undertaking of the Birdathon Fun Walk event at False Bay Nature Reserve. This year saw the largest crowd yet, of around 900 people. The
participants received environmental lessons and had fun at the same time. A sponsorship from Melomed Hospital Group added a great partner to the mix, allowing for health screening at the event and contributing to the holistic nature of the day. DW has also continued to be involved in academic research projects at the site, contributing to the completion of four different projects thus far. The projects in 2015 included; An Analysis of Changes in Bird species Abundance at the Strandfontein Birding Area, and An Evaluation of the Ecosystem Services provided by this site.

5. Launch of the Vergenoegd Waterbird Habitat Rehabilitation Project
Following a successful funding proposal by NCC Environmental Services to the Table Mountain Fund, the waterbird habitat rehabilitation project was able to kick off in earnest in 2015. Thus far the project has rolled out floating islands to four pilot sites as part of the initial project, whilst also developing training materials and bird monitoring protocols, and identifying further pilot sites for roll out. A successful launch event was held at Vergenegoed Wine Estate in June 2015 and attended by many partners and interested landowners. Other information days with the Biodiversity & Wine Initiative and at the National Wetlands Indaba have added to the awareness of the project.

6. Additional Items
Dale Wright received a travel scholarship to attend the International Congress for Conservation Biology in Montpellier, France, in August 2015. He presented a poster on his work in the regional programme and a presentation regarding his research of environmental volunteers.
The Bitou Valley Local Conservation Group continues to grow their work and presence in the Plettenberg Bay area under the able leadership of Dr Mark Brown of the Nature's Valley Trust.
The high number of media and awareness engagements has continued, with participation in various radio broadcasts, public presentations at a variety of events and many popular articles distributed.

Dale Wright


























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