Photo Credit: Scott Ramsay

While global conservation action has increased over the past decades, the pressures on biodiversity have also increased resulting in a continued loss and degradation of biodiversity. It is therefore paramount that conservation action is focused in the most important sites for biodiversity. South Africa has a strong history of target driven Systematic Conservation Planning (SCP) which, among other things, identify Critical Biodiversity Areas (CBAs), Ecosystem Support Areas (ESA), and guide Protected Area expansion. However, these planning products, e.g. CBAs and ESAs are not recognised internationally. Pressure continues to mount on South Africa’s resources, including an increasing interest in mineral resources in South Africa. Therefore, it is paramount for South Africa to partner these biodiversity planning products with an internationally recognised site recognition standard that has traction to lobby for the protection of these sites at a global scale. In many other African countries however, these advanced spatial planning products do not exist, and South Africa has a regional responsibility to support these countries. Enter BirdLife South Africa, SANBI and the WWF Nedbank Green Trust’s Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) project.

In 2018, BirdLife South Africa and SANBI partnered to initiate a KBA assessment in South Africa. The partnership’s first output was the establishment of a KBA National Coordination Group (NCG), which BirdLife South Africa and SANBI co-chair. The WWF Nedbank Green Trust and SANBI funded the national process and  support BirdLife’s national role in leading this process and their regional support role in Africa as the KBA Community Chair and African representative.  Thirteen of the largest conservation organisations worldwide are leading the global KBA initiative, including the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Birdlife International and the World Conservation Society.

Preliminary results from the national KBA assessment have identified more than 540 KBAs in South Africa. We were able to draw on a massive amount of data from SANBI’s National Biodiversity Assessment, and from NGOs and universities. The identified KBAs collectively cover approximately 370 000 km2 of South Africa’s terrestrial and freshwater environments, equivalent to 30% of South Africa’s mainland. In addition, an approximate 173 200 km2 of KBAs are located beyond the mainland at significant seabird colonies.

The final step in the national process is to invite input from key national stakeholders, and then to submit the proposed KBA network to the KBA Secretariat in Cambridge in the United Kingdom for final approval and inclusion in the World Database of Key Biodiversity Areas, aiming for early 2021.

The global standard and its practical application is vital at this time when the world, through the international Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), is deliberating a new plan for nature – the Global Biodiversity Framework 2020-2030.

For more information visit