Posted on the 22nd September 2016

John Fincham and Jo Hobbs of the CAPE BIRD CLUB have submitted reports for the Western Cape Birding Forum meeting scheduled for 1 October 2017. Everyone involved should be congratulated with these stirling efforts. - Ed.

Background: Paarl Bird Sanctuary (PBS) was proclaimed in 1994 at the instigation of Town Engineer Ben Heunis. He was encouraged by James Harrison and Dr Tony Williams of the ADU/UCT, Jan Hofmeyr of the Cape Bird Club (CBC) and local birders. Sustained support of the Municipal Engineering Department and the entire operational staff at the Waste-water Treatment Works (WWTW) has been fundamental and is ongoing. CBC inputs have been monthly CWAC counts for almost 22 years, as well as financial and material contributions towards some of the original bird hides. CBC member Yvonne Weiss has co-ordinated the counts and submitted the data throughout this long period.
Bird count data from a ten year period has been analysed and published (Harebottle DM et al., Ostrich 2008, 79(2): 147-163). The study concluded that PBS is the second most important wetland for water birds in the Cape Town area; and that it should be declared a Ramsar Site and an Important Bird Area. PBS also became known internationally and regionally as a top birding site.
Current Problems: During recent years PBS has been beset by vandalism and crime. International and local visitors have been threatened with knives and guns, and robbed. Bird hides have been destroyed, rebuilt and destroyed again. The Yvonne Weiss viewing platform has been severely damaged twice. Visitors have dwindled drastically as a result. The bird counts and ringing continue under costly security cover.
Searching for a Solution: PBS and the WWTW belong to all the residents of Paarl who pay the taxes that fund operation, maintenance and development. A project is underway to explain to adjacent communities why these facilities are unique assets for education about the environment and health, as well as for research, tourism and recreation. The primary objective is to convince local people that property belonging to them is being damaged, and to motivate them to support and use the facilities, which should help to combat crime and vandalism. A Business Plan for the project has been accepted by Senior Drakenstein Municipal Management.
The initial approach is through schools since it is likely that children and teachers can influence the communities they serve. Encouraging results from 7 schools have been summarised for this meeting by Jo Hobbs. In addition we are prepared to speak to a wider constituency, including business forums, commerce, the wine industry, agriculture, churches, technicons, universities and government departments.
For this WCBF meeting, slides will be used to convey our thesis for school teachers. Emphasis is placed on birds as crucial environmental and ecological indicators globally, regionally and locally. The biodiversity of the Berg River will be considered, as will birds in relation to public health. Tourism, job creation and recreation, will be mentioned briefly if time permits.
(Note: a positive new development is that the Municipality intends enclosing the entire perimeter of PBS with a high-grade security fence).
- John Fincham

Since my report at the last WCBF meeting on 4 June, John Fincham and Skhumbuzo Mbewu have updated their PowerPoint presentation and visited two more Drakenstein schools. This means that so far more than 160 local teachers have been made aware of the potential of the Paarl Bird Sanctuary and Waste Water Works area as an outdoor classroom for environmental studies.
School visits to PBS: The first official school visit took place over two days on 1 and 2 September and was extremely successful. Almost 80 pupils of the Desmond Mpilo Tutu High School in Mbekweni were given a tour of the Waste Water Works guided by staff members as part of their school curriculum on water purification. The second half of the morning was devoted to an introduction to the birds of the sanctuary. Bird ID sheets were provided for each pupil. Skhumbuzo Mbewu guided the groups on a walk around the inner pans to identify the birds and explain various environmental aspects. He also discussed career possibilities in conservation and tourism and answered numerous questions. John Fincham and other CBC members set up telescopes on the bird viewing platform overlooking Pan A and some extra binoculars were also provided. Some time was spent studying the birds from here. The pupils completed an Evaluation Form after their visit and were invited to add their comments. These, without exception, were highly enthusiastic. They really appreciated and enjoyed the experience. Bus transport and mid-morning refreshments were sponsored by the Drakenstein municipality whose staff members have been extremely helpful and supportive throughout. The vandalised toilet facilities have been repaired. Plans for additional security fencing are not yet finalised.
Planned meetings: Following the recent local municipal elections some new councillors have been appointed to the Drakenstein municipality. One of them has proposed a meeting to include the portfolios of the environment, youth affairs and tourism. This will provide orientation and an opportunity to discuss forward planning and action. Further meetings are also anticipated with municipal staff and with members of the Paarl Bird Sanctuary Advisory Committee. John has also been contacted by officials from the National Department of Environmental Affairs who have requested a meeting, probably towards the middle of October when one of their key members will be visiting Cape Town.
Funding: Regarding financial sponsorship, we have to thank the Cape Bird Club for providing start-up funding of R10 000 to cover Skhumbuzo’s time and expertise and John’s fuel costs for the months up to the date of the school visit. However, this is now exhausted. We have had no news from other potential sponsors but will continue efforts to raise additional funds to enable the project to continue.
Note: At the WCBF meeting on 1 October John Fincham will summarise the history of PBS and describe some of the educational information discussed with teachers. Evidence that birds are powerful environmental and ecological indicators globally, regionally and locally is reviewed. It is emphasised that children need to see and experience birds in order to understand how important they are to humans.
Jo Hobbs


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