Minister Molewa led the celebration of World Migratory Bird Day at Marievale Sanctuary in Gauteng

15 October 2015


The Minister of Environmental Affairs, Mrs Edna Molewa today, on 15 October 2015 led the celebrations for World Migratory Bird Day at the Marievale Bird Sanctuary in Gauteng.

Addressing school children and stakeholders, the Minister said, “It is indeed a pleasure for me to be marking this, the first official celebration of World Migratory Bird Day in South Africa here at Marievale Bird Sanctuary, which forms part of one of the largest wetland reserves in the Highveld region of southern Africa. I’m told that this area is one of the largest refuges for waterbird species; and that there are strong populations of almost 300 species found here.”

This wetland system in Blesbokspruit plays a critical role in our conservation efforts as government and is one of the larger tributaries of the Vaal River that provides water to Gauteng.

The reality is that human population growth, the rapid pace of urbanization and industrialization processes have resulted in habitat modification and loss for many bird species, including waterbirds.

In this regard, wetland systems play a critical role in mitigating the effects of urbanization. These natural wonders play a unique and vital role in maintaining a delicate balance between different ecosystems and biomes.

To raise awareness of the need for the protection of migratory birds and their habitats, World Migratory Bird Day was declared in 2006 under the Convention for the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) and the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA). South Africa became a Contracting Party on 01 December 1991 and 01 April 2002 respectively.

The timing of the international WMBD celebrations (1 May) is linked to the return of migratory birds to the northern hemisphere in their summer period, which means migratory birds are leaving rather than arriving in South Africa at this time. We are celebrating in October to mark the arrival of northern hemisphere birds in South Africa.

The theme for this year’s 2015 World Migratory Bird Day is “Energy- make it bird-friendly!” This focuses on the use of migratory bird friendly energy technologies to ultimately prevent, minimize and mitigate the impacts of renewable energy systems and technologies on migratory birds and their habitats.

The Department of Environmental Affairs remains committed to sharing our extensive expertise and know-how with our partners in the private sector and the conservation community – to realize this very important objective: ensuring migratory birds will never disappear from our skies.

In this regard, government is leading by example. We have the partnership between the national power utility, Eskom and the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) firstly, and secondly the Ingula Partnership between Eskom, BirdLife South Africa, and Middelpunt Wetlands Trust.

Eskom is a critical driver of Gauteng’s economy, and South Africa’s economy in general. The provision of electricity isn’t just essential to industrial development. Access to electricity lifts millions of people out of poverty, enables the provision of other services such as education and healthcare and catalyzes small business development.

However, we are ever mindful of the effects of development and the built environment on the environment, and of potential negative impacts. Birds and other animals often collide with power lines. These same birds nest on infrastructure, resulting in supply disruptions.

There is need to manage both the risk to our fauna and flora caused by the rollout of energy infrastructure – and at the same time ensure that the natural environment is not irreversibly damaged by this infrastructure.

In 1996 Eskom and the Endangered Wildlife Trust, (EWT) formalised a long-standing relationship aimed at coming up with an integrated management system to minimise the negative impacts of electrification and electricity supply on bird life. 

Regarding the Ingula Partnership, Eskom formed this partnership with conservation NGO’s when it became apparent that such a partnership could add immense value to the conservation of very important biomes (wetlands, grasslands and escarpment forests) ensuring the protection of threatened bird species like the White-winged Flufftail, Wattled Crane, Eurasian Bittern, Bearded Vulture and Rudd’s Lark.

At a time of increased energy scarcity, when the renewable energy sector continues to grow locally, the use of technologies and methods that are environmentally friendly, is key. Working in concert with our partners in industry and in other government departments – we as the Department of Environmental Affairs have prioritized the need for migratory birds to be considered in energy planning and development.

Concerted conservation actions by governments, nature conservation organizations, scientists and the energy sector is necessary. So is the need for focused awareness and education programmes on the conservation and sustainable use of migratory birds. Our people need to know more on how to protect migratory birds and natural resources in their vicinity in general. At the same time, sustainable use of natural resources is an essential component of our country’s development.

South Africa is an important range state of migratory birds and has an opportunity to play an important role not only locally, but also in global conservation efforts of these species and their habitats.

In closing the Minister said, “Let us strengthen existing efforts to ensure that this magnificent spectacle, of thousands of migratory birds crossing our skies – is not now or in the future relegated to history: to paintings and picture books.”

For media queries contact:

Albi Modise
Cell: 083 490 2871.

Fact Sheet

Migratory Birds

Since the dawn of time, the ways of migratory birds have been an essential feature on the landscape of human existence. The sight and sounds of birds on their way to and from their wintering grounds has been reflected in poetry, art, and literature.

These migrations require precise orientation and high-energy consumption because of the physiological and ecological adaptation needed for different environmental conditions. The routes are called flyways - which encompass the breeding, wintering and staging areas required to complete the whole annual cycle.

During migration, these animals face a wide range of threats that impact their chances of surviving the journey. High-voltage power lines result in collisions and electrocution. Pollution, deforestation and changing land use destroy habitats that once were suitable breeding and wintering grounds, as well as stopover sites. In these stopover countries and wintering grounds, their eggs and chicks face poaching. And as more and more countries take up renewable energy, these migratory birds face a new threat: of being killed by wind turbines.

World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD) was initiated in 2006 as a global awareness-raising campaign to highlight the need for to highlight the need for the protection of migratory birds and their habitats. The theme for this year’s 2015 World Migratory Bird Day is “Energy– make it bird-friendly!” The theme seeks to educate the public about the importance of deploying energy technologies in a way that prevents, minimizes and mitigates impacts on migratory birds and their habitats and how citizens can assist to conserve birds and their habitat.

Wetlands/Blesbokspruit Wetland

This wetland purifies industrial and domestic effluent discharged into the Blesbokspruit River from industries, sewage works and mines – thereby reducing the pollutant loads entering the Vaal River.

It counter-balances the human effects on water systems by filtering and purifying surface water; keeping river levels normal, including during storms and whenever water levels are high; and slowly releasing water when levels are low.

Not only this, but the effects of wetlands on other ecosystems are vast and far-reaching. Wetlands release vegetation into rivers, which feeds fish. This attracts other animals, including birds that nest in surrounding trees, and use the river as a source of food.

Blesbokspruit is classified as a RAMSAR site. This is a classification accorded wetlands of international importance on the basis of certain criteria, such as conservation of biodiversity and support of endangered species. There are currently 17 RAMSAR sites in South Africa – and this is the only one in Gauteng.