Protecting key South African biodiversity sites through community-based conservation

This project is building community support for conservation at four important biodiversity sites across South Africa - in wetlands and Montane grasslands at Wakkerstroom, the wetlands of Soweto, Ongoye Forest, Kwa-Zulu-Natal and at Cata Escarpment forest in Eastern Cape.

Blue sand texture background


Community-based conservation is internationally recognised as a critical conservation intervention. There has been considerable work in this area in South Africa since 1994, although it has mainly focused on communities around large protected sites with poor rural and urban communities.  

The Klipspruit Wetland in Soweto is heavily polluted. Despite this there is a wide array of bird life of interest to visitors. 
Wakkerstroom has an internationally important wetland but threats include uncontrolled cattle grazing, hunting and fires.  

The Eastern Cape indigenous forests provides habitat for the Cape Parrot, one of the most threatened birds in South Africa, which depends on over-harvested yellowwood trees for nesting sites and as a source of food, while similar problems exist at Ongoye Forest.  

We want to help residents of these areas benefit from the tourism industry and develop and market locally produced goods. At the same time we aim to improve their support for conservation and encourage enhanced protection and management of these sites.


  • Project Purpose: Community-focused programmes are significantly enhancing the status of important biodiversity sites and the capacity to manage them for the future.
  • Local site support groups in place at each site establish a firm basis for project sustainability.
  • Training and capacity-building programme for national and local stakeholders implemented.
  • Participatory plans for conservation monitoring and action in place and under implementation at each site.
  • Marketing-focused initiatives at each site are generating economic benefits for local people and assisting sustainability.
  • National networking and experience sharing has stimulated action at additional high priority biodiversity sites.
  • Awareness of conservation needs and values enhanced.

Planned Work

The next year should see the progress to date consolidated.

We will:
  • Pursue more formal protection for the Wakkerstroom area where surrounding grasslands are heavily threatened by coal mining.
  • Develop management plans at Cata and Soweto. 
  • Develop income generating activities for poor citizens at all sites.
  • Enhance formal and informal education actions and seek to organise resource user and community conservation groups to ensure local participation in conservation activities.


  • Excellent partnerships with local and national government agencies, NGOs and community groups at each site.
  • Strong youth-based environment clubs in impoverished communities were established at the Wakkerstroom and Soweto project sites respectively.  Both these groups are actively engaging the project and its activities.
  • Extensive training on project management, eco-tourism, participatory approaches and training techniques took place with the site co-ordinators and community representatives.
  • Establishment of resource users association, for example reed and grass cutters association in Wakkerstroom whose efforts helped to reduce incident of fire during the dry season.
  • Project Manager has raised awareness of the strong community base to the project and encourages similar projects elsewhere, including developing a southern Africa site support network with Botswana and Zimbabwe.

Species affected (not UK birds)

  • Cape parrot
  • Crowned crane
  • White-winged flufftail
  • Woodwards barbet


  • DEFRA's Darwin Initiative
    Co-funding was secured for the project from the Spanish Agency for International Co-operation (AECI) through BirdLife International, April 2008-August 2009.


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: Education Project types: Organisation development Project types: Site protection