Birds connect our world is the theme of World Migratory Bird Day 2020

10 May 2020

While most of the world remains under lockdown to combat the spread of Covid-19, migratory bird species are starting to migrate to the winter and summer resting or breeding grounds.

Numerous bird species, such as the lesser and greater striped Swallows, the Amur falcon, red-chested cuckoo or yellow-billed kite, migrate from the southern to the northern hemisphere for the summer. These are areas that have abundant food and nesting grounds.

The theme of World Migratory Bird Day 2020 is “Birds Connect Our World” to raise awareness about the pressures placed on these species,

The theme was chosen to highlight the importance of conserving and restoring the ecological connectivity and integrity of ecosystems that support the natural movements of migratory birds and which are essential for their survival and well-being. These sites are also critical for avian based tourism which has a notable input to the overall tourism industry.

Migratory species move across the globe connecting countries, people and continents through their migration routes. The migration can only be successful if animals are able to access the different sites and habitats that they rely upon along their pathways. These pathways transcend national borders, national plans and conservation priorities of any single country. It is therefore critical that cross-border and international cooperation is promoted to ensure protection of suitable habitats for wintering, as stop-over, staging and breeding sites for these birds.

In South Africa, the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries has partnered with BirdLife SA to implement what are known as Important Birds and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs). Of the 13 500 sites worldwide, 113 are found in South Africa.  

Of the 112 IBAs assessed by BirdLife SA in 2015, 51 (46%) were fully protected, 33 (29%) partially protected, and 28 I (25%) where found to be completely unprotected.  The majority of the unprotected areas are found on private and communally-owned and. Since 2015, many more protected areas have been declared in these areas through the national biodiversity stewardship initiative, increasing the number of IBAs under protection. .

The Department and SANBi are working to identify what is known as Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures (OECMs). These form part of the current Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Aichi Target 11, which aims by 2020 to conserved at least 17 percent of terrestrial and inland water resources. It is expected that this network of OECMs will cover many more IBAs important for migratory species.

By expanding and effectively managing our protected areas and OECMs more habitat for birds will be safeguarded, incorporating essential ecological services, a wealth of other species, and assist in sustainable economic development.

The implementation of the country’s National Protected Areas Expansion Strategy makes provisions for negotiating management plans and contracts with private landowners, before proclaiming them as nature reserves and protected environments. This is reinforced through the Stewardship programme that allows for collaboration with landowners on securing conservation areas, thus protecting species such as migratory birds. The flagship programmes in this regard include those aimed at protecting Blue Cranes and the White-winged Flufftail.

In addition, South Africa is a Party to the Ramsar Convention which is an international convention for the protection and restoration of international importance.  This is key because most migratory birds are water birds, such as the Pygmy and Woodland Kingfishers. So far South Africa has 26 Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Sites) covering a surface area of 563,005 hectares. More than 23 of the 26 Ramsar sites in South Africa are located within the nature reserves and national parks. The Management Authorities of each of the 26 sites are required to ensure there is not degradation, or changes to the ecological character, of these areas while protecting critical species, such as migratory birds.

Besides the Monitoring Effectiveness Tracking Tool being implemented by the management of each site, the Department is also developing a national policy on wetlands. We are set to launch a multi-agency compliance and enforcement intervention to ensure none of these sites are destroyed. The Working for Wetlands programme ensures damaged areas.

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Albi Modise
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