What is an IBA ?
Important Bird Areas form part of an international conservation programme implemented and run by BirdLife International and its worldwide partners to protect and conserve bird species.
IBAs protect and conserve not just birds, but the habitats that support them and in so doing, also protect other plant, insect, reptile and mammal life that live there. It’s what is known as Biodiversity.
There are over 120 IBAs in South Africa and more than 10 000 IBAs worldwide.
In 2007 The Lake Victoria wetland, Mount Moreland was declared an IBA, an Important Bird Area, by Birdlife International and BirdlifeSA as it hosts a roost of over 1% of the world’s migratory barn swallows.
The Mount Moreland roost is also South Africa’s largest barn swallow roost.
Estimates of the number of Barn Swallows using the roost at any given time vary from 1.5 million to the more popular 3 million.
In fact numbers of Barn Swallows could well exceed these estimates, even 10 million has been estimated, as it is now realized that the Lake Victoria roost at Mount Moreland is a important transitionary roost, acting as a stop-over for barn swallows on their way to more southerly destinations.
Since 1996 the Lake Victoria Conservancy, made up of environmentally aware and concerned Mt Moreland residents, have acted as the local custodians for the Barn Swallows and their wetland roost, particularly championing their cause during the development of the nearby King Shaka International Airport.
As a result of work done Birdlife and the Conservancy, the Airports Company South Africa installed a special bird Detect radar which was further adapted to monitor the tiny barn swallows and their movements in relation to the relatively low approach flight path of the aeroplanes. This ‘early warning’ system which feeds straight into the Airport’s Air Traffic Control tower and is relayed to pilots will safe guard both the planes and the barn swallows.
It is a worldwide first and its success could provide not only kudos for South Africa and ACSA but some very interesting and unique data on the barn swallows.
The Mt. Moreland Roost is an IBA – (Important Bird Area). Birdlife International has declared it such as it contains over 1% of the world’s barn swallows. IBAs are recognized throughout the world as important bird sites. The possible destruction of the Mt. Moreland roost would not wipe out all the barn swallows in the world but would be a very good way to start and it would be a shocking indictment of South Africa’s attitude to this international environmental phenomenon. Hence an IBA was needed and achieved.
The Swallow Roost, the Mt. Moreland wetlands and their catchments, the Umdloti river, the flood plain, and the nearby estuary leading to the sea at Umdloti are a gem waiting to be polished. It would serve our City well if it took cognizance of this and provided a green corridor to compensate for the excessive carbon footprint created by the airport.
Mount Moreland is located c. 25 km North of Durban and approximately 4 km inland from the small town of Umdloti. King Shaka International Airport is approximately 4 km away to the north while the N2 Highway runs along the IBAs Eastern border. Little of the original grassland habitat remains and the area is heavily transformed. The dominant feature of the IBA is the hill called Mount Moreland, after which the town is named. The top of the hill forms the site of the village where 195 residential houses and open plots exist. Two wetlands are found in the lower lying areas namely Lake Victoria to the West of the village and Froggy Pond to the East. The wetlands are dominated by Phragmites reedbeds. The wetlands drain into the Umdloti River which runs through the southern portions of the IBA as it winds its way towards the Indian Ocean. The remainder of the IBA consists of sugarcane farmlands which have been cultivated in the remainder of the lower lying areas and are the dominate feature of the surrounding landscape. The altitude ranges between 8 to 55 m.a.s.l. Mount Moreland has a humid subtropical climate with average summer temperatures of 28°C in summer and 20°C in winter. The average rainfall for the area is approximately 1000 mm p.a.
Every year the Lake Victoria and Froggy Pond wetlands play stage to the spectacular arrival of thousands of Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica which roost in the Phragmites reed beds. Large flocks of Barn Swallow are usually first seen around mid to late October with mass/peak displays from mid to end November. Numbers then taper off and it is assumed that many swallows continue on their journey to other parts of South Africa but hundreds of thousands of birds seem to be resident roosting in the wetland during summer. Numbers peak again during March and April (this has not occurred the past 2 years due to erratic weather patterns) before the swallows leave for their migration back to Europe and Asia.
A resident population of African Marsh-Harrier regularly hunt swallows as they come in to roost and other species such as Lanner Falcon Falco biarmicus and Sooty Falcon Falco concolor have also been recorded hunting over the wetland.
IBA Trigger Species:
This is the largest single roost of Barn Swallows in South Africa. Estimating the numbers of Barn Swallows is very difficult and estimates vary between 1.5 and 10 million birds however the most accepted figure is approximately 3 million. Another factor that cannot be determined is how many Barn Swallows will stop over at this roost during summer en route to other parts of the country.
The site is one of only 10 known locations where a population of the Pickersgill’s Reed Frog Hyperolius pickersgilli is known to occur.
Encroachment of alien vegetation into the Phragmites reed beds and the Barn Swallow roost.
The Lake Victoria Conservancy was established in 1995 and in 2010 it was renamed the Mount Moreland Conservancy. The land is owned by residents who have properties in the conservancy. The remainder of the area is owned by the Airport Company South Africa (ACSA) and Dube Tradeport. The Mount Moreland Conservancy actively strives to conserve the biodiversity of the site through a number of initiatives. The most important of which are the efforts by the conservancy to raise awareness about Barn Swallows and other forms of biodiversity. Each year from October to March approximately 3000 – 5000 people visit the site to witness the spectacle of the Barn Swallows coming in to roost. This is one of the biggest birding events in South Africa that plays a very important awareness role. The conservancy also ensures that developments that may affect the site are carefully implemented to ensure the continued persistence of the Barn Swallow roost. The most important example of this was the development of the nearby King Shaka airport and there was much media attention cast on the possible impacts the airport would have on the swallows. Through the efforts of the conservancy, ACSA installed a dedicated radar system (a first in SA) that is used to monitor the movements of the swallow flock to prevent possible collisions with aircraft. No impacts have occurred and there have been only three instances (over the past 4.5 years) where aircraft were made to divert due to the close proximity of the flock.
New Landowners: Airport Company South Africa (ACSA) and Dube Tradeport contribute to the conservation of the site. Biodiversity Stewardship options are also being investigated.
Embargo: 12 September 2015
THE LAST STAND FOR OUR BIRDS
Johannesburg, 12 September 2015:
One-third of the 112 most important sites for nature in South Africa are facing imminent danger of irreversible damage, according to a new South African IBA Status Report published today by BirdLife South Africa.
These sites – known as Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) – are threatened by invasive species, changes in habitats through incorrect burning practices, and agricultural expansion or mismanagement. Unprotected IBAs in particular are deteriorating at a concerning rate, most especially in grasslands, wetlands and fynbos, but habitats in protected IBAs are also showing signs of deterioration. Over 85% of all IBAs face high to very high levels of threats, and there is little distinction between protected and unprotected IBAs in this regard. The IBAs with the highest and most imminent threats will be included in BirdLife International´s list of IBAs in Danger, the global list of priority sites identified for urgent action.
This South African IBA Status Report is accompanied by a revised National IBA Directory, building on and up-dating the first such inventory published in 1998. It provides updated information of the most important aspect of each of these 112 IBAs, including the geography and climate of the area, the list of the bird species found at the IBA, the biggest threats to the site, and what conservation action is taking place to secure the IBA. This publication can be used by conservation practitioners and planners to prioritize their work, by developers who need to understand the sensitivity of an area, and can even be used by bird enthusiasts to plan a birding trip.
The 112 IBAs in South Africa are the last stand for bird conservation on a landscape level. Protecting these sites has benefits not only for South Africa’s birds, but also for other animals, plants and the vital ecological services these sites provide to people. These services include providing us with fresh water, managing floods, controlling disease, and providing grazing lands for livestock farming. Conserving IBAs is also important for attaining our government’s environmental commitments like the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Aichi Target 11 that calls for the expansion of terrestrial Protected Areas by at least 17%, and the Convention on Migratory Species. Therefore, their deteriorating status is a very high concern which requires immediate attention from government agencies and other stakeholders.
The main recommendations from the IBA Status Report to remedy this situation include that government needs to allocate more resources towards managing protected areas and expanding the protected areas network through biodiversity stewardship. That IBAs should be used as a first cut when identifying priority areas for conservation, including for protected area expansion. By following the published management guidelines, the agricultural sector is able to manage their lands for the parallel purposes of producing livestock, improving veld condition and conserving biodiversity. IBAs should be considered as red flags and often exclusion areas when other development options are being considered, such as mining.
While both these publications are milestones for bird conservation, they need to be seen as the spearhead which will now be used to lobby, plan and implement effective conservation for birds, their habitats and other biodiversity.
Both the revised IBA Directory and IBA Status Report can be bought in hard copy from BirdLife South Africa’s IBA Programme (011 789 1122, firstname.lastname@example.org), or the electronic versions can be downloaded for free from http://www.birdlife.org.za/conservation/important-bird-areas/documents-and-downloads.
South Africa has as an extraordinary diversity of life. With 846 bird species, 8% of the world’s bird species, and a diversity of other life and habitat types, it is not always easy to prioritize the most important sites for conservation. As a developing economy, South Africa has to accommodate competing land uses and therefore we need to focus conservation efforts on habitats and sites of irreplaceable worth. Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas, or IBAs, are just that, the most important sites for conserving our birds and the rich diversity of life associated with birds. The IBA network is comprised of sites of global significance for bird conservation, and may be considered the minimum set of sites essential to ensuring the survival of the world’s birds. The consequences of losing any one of these sites would be disproportionately large.
About Birdlife South Africa
- BirdLife South Africa’s IBA Programme is supported by a number of funders: Mitsui & Co., Trencor, WWF Table Mountain Fund, WWF Nedbank Green Trust, Rupert Natuurstigting, Rand Merchant Bank, Sappi, Honda SA, CEPF and Mr Price.
- BirdLife South Africa is the local country partner of BirdLife International. BirdLife International is the world’s largest nature conservation Partnership with more than 120 BirdLife Partners worldwide and almost 11 million supporters.
- BirdLife South Africa is the largest non-profit bird conservation organization in the country. It relies on donor funding and financial support from the public to carry out its critical conservation work.
- Birds are important environmental indicators, the proverbial “canaries in the coal mine”. By focusing on birds, and the sites and the habitats on which they depend, BirdLife South Africa’s IBA Programme aims to improve the quality of life for birds, for other wildlife, and ultimately for people.
- To make a contribution towards the IBA Fund, go to http://birdlifesouthafrica.givengain.org and click on “IBA Fund” to make a donation. Alternatively, please contact Daniel Marnewick at email@example.com +27 (11) 789 1122.
- The IBAs in Danger initiative of BirdLife International identifies IBAs facing very high levels of threats based on their scope, timing and scale. The current list includes 358 IBAs from 102 countries. For more information, visit http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/info/IBAsInDanger.
- For more information, visit birdlife.org.za.