Institutional support to BirdLife South Africa

RSPB began work in South Africa in 1995 and continues to support the organisation through core support, their policy and advocacy programme and site and species conservation.

Blue sand texture background


BirdLife South Africa is now a well-known, growing and highly effective conservation organisation with a range of projects involving a wide cross section of South African society.
BirdLife South Africa was formed in 1930 as the Southern African Ornithological Society.  It developed a strong reputation for good ornithological research and a strong involvement by members. By 1995 however, it had appointed its first full-time director with a mission to make the organisation more conservation focused and broaden its support and appeal to a more representative sample of South African society.
South Africa is one of the most biodiverse countries in Africa with more than 800 species of birds recorded.  However, around 36 of these are considered threatened with global extinction and the country faces severe environmental threats including pressure as a result of rural poverty, build development, mining and climate change.


The overall programme is designed to assist BirdLife South Africa (BLSA) to be an increasingly effective, well-governed and self-sufficient organisation saving South Africa's birds.

To achieve this, we focus on supporting BirdLife South Africa to achieve the following results:
  • Conservation status of priority/key bird sites, species and habitats.
  • Appropriate research and monitoring undertaken, commissioned and/or supported. Results disseminated.
  • BirdLife South Africa education programme effectively in operation in South African schools.
  • Public awareness of bird and habitat conservation enhanced.
  • Sustainable funding of BirdLife South Africa in place.
  • BirdLife South Africa membership increased and diversified.
  • BirdLife South Africa effectively publicised.

Planned Work

Current RSPB involvement includes:

  • Ongoing support to BirdLife South Africa core functions.
  • Co-management of Darwin-funded programme to develop community conservation initiatives at three IBAs – Ongoye Forest, Cata Forest and Wakkerstroom wetlands, as well as wetlands in Soweto.
  • Support for Policy and Advocacy work including the development of effective campaigns against loss of or damage to IBAs such as grasslands around Wakkerstroom, where globally threatened species are at risk due to proposed coal mining.
  • Support for Southern African Save the Albatross campaign whereby BLSA are working with fishing communities in South Africa and Namibia to implement effective mitigation projects to prevent seabird mortality.
  • Joint project development and fundraising initiatives to sustain BLSA’s programmes.
  • Support to enhance BLSA membership and marketing initiatives.


Since 1994 the organisation has transformed itself to become a more active conservation organisation and to develop programmes to ensure the participation of all sectors of South African society. RSPB has worked with them since 1995 and been integral to this process.  

Among the key successes are: 

  • Substantial growth in all sectors of the organisation – staff and volunteer numbers overall income and number of field projects.
  • Active Important Bird Area programme focusing on the 122 IBAs across South Africa.  Effective opposition to major development proposals affecting IBAs, including coal mining in the eastern grasslands and inappropriate tourism developments in key wetlands.
  • Innovative development of a more community-focused approach to conservation focusing initially on four sites and supported by UK Government Darwin Initiative.
  • Development of an acclaimed ecotourism programme, training young rural people as bird guides and marketing birding routes such as Zululand Birding Route (
  • Development of a successful education programme stimulated by major support from UK National Lottery through RSPB. Publication of the award-winning Learning for Sustainable Living teachers resource book since emulated across continents.
  • Critical involvement of BLSA in the global Save the Albatross programme.
  • Successful research programmes on globally threatened species including Rudd’s lark and southern bald ibis.

Species affected (not UK birds)

The focus of this work is on South Africa's most threatened species. Some European migrants are involved, for example a recent campaign to safeguard a major roost of European swallows which could have been affected by the new Durban airport.


Coast on a stormy day

Chris Magin

Head of Section Partner Development, International Country Programmes
Tagged with: Country: International Country: South Africa Project status: Ongoing Project types: Advocacy Project types: Education Project types: Organisation development Project types: Site protection Project types: Species protection