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Protecting Important Bird Areas

Protecting Important Bird Areas
A visit to the Wilderness and Sedgefield areas of the Garden Route National Park will reveal a series of lakes, a variety of birdlife and an area protecting a range of threatened and endemic species.

This is one of the reasons why BirdLife South Africa has classified the area as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) – one of the most significant in the Western Cape.

The lakes also form a Ramsar site of international importance. As a result, Birdlife South Africa is hoping to work with SANParks to establish partnerships with private landowners surrounding the Garden Route National Park. This will not only contribute to environmental management, but also expand the footprint of protected areas.

“Less than 40% of South Africa’s IBAs fall within actual protected areas,” says Dale Wright, Regional Conservation manager for BirdLife South Africa in the Western Cape.

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The IBA programme is one of BirdLife International’s most important conservation initiatives. It identifies and strives to conserve a network of sites critical for the long-term survival of those birds that are globally threatened, have a restricted range and occur in specific vegetation types. Areas with significant congregatory populations, such as the Wilderness Lakes, also qualify.

The Wilderness Sedgefield Lakes Complex is one of the IBA’s that meets all four criteria. Wright says that Wilderness is home to threatened species such as the Knysna Woodpecker, Knysna Warbler and African Crowned Eagle. There are 262 bird species which the lakes and surrounding areas support. Approximately 72 different water bird species are present any time and more than 1% of the local populations of birds such as the Great-crested Grebe and Cape Shoveler reside in this small area.

While BirdLife South Africa is not legally mandated to declare protected areas, they are able to work in partnership with government conservation agencies to assist private landowners to make a conservation commitment, and conserve our natural heritage. This does not require, for example, farmers to stop with their activities, but simply to set aside a portion of their property dedicated to conservation in one way or another. In return, they may be able to access certain fiscal benefits.

Tim Carr is just one of the landowners in the area that is keen to get involved. While he owns an eco-reserve, he is also a keen birder and conservationist. “The main reason I am interested is to make sure my land is under some kind of protection,” says Carr. He says that if he ever sells his property, he wants to be sure that it is protected against unsustainable developments, as he has been rehabilitating it for some time.

Carr says that many private landowners are nervous to go into these types of agreements, but there is a much bigger picture to consider. “We need more private land owners to get involved.”

The long term vision for the area is to establish a protected environment in this area, says Wright. “It is really early days, but this new approach to conservation is already reaping great rewards across South Africa.”

Written by René de Klerk– SANParks Times Reporter

Pictures: Hennie Homann

Content courtesy of SANParks Times: www.sanparkstimes.co.za

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