Large and conspicuous birds offer the opportunity to monitor their populations by means of relatively simple techniques. One of these techniques is the "road count", in which observations are made from vehicles covering fixed routes. It is these large birds that are showing signs of threat due to loss of habitat through changes in land use, increases in crop agriculture and human population densities, poisoning as well as man-made structures like power lines. With the prospect of wind and solar farms to increase our use of renewable energy sources monitoring of these species is most important.
Roadcounts were pioneered in July 1993 in a joint Cape Bird Club/ADU project to monitor the populations of two threatened species: Blue Crane Anthropoides paradiseus and Denham’s/Stanley's Bustard Neotis denhami. The initial study area is known as the Overberg and consists of a mosaic of agricultural and natural landscapes on the coastal plain northeast of Cape Town in the Western Cape. The project began with 15 routes and detailed observations were recorded while driving slowly and especially during stops at regular two-kilometre intervals. During these stops, the surrounding countryside was scanned using binoculars. This pilot study was successful and the fieldwork method has not been changed significantly over the past 19 years.
CAR spread rapidly to other provinces and now monitors 36 species of large terrestrial birds (cranes, bustards, korhaans, storks, Secretarybird and Southern Bald Ibis) along 350 fixed routes covering over 19 000 km ( the flight distance between Cape Town, London and back!). Fourteen of these species appear in the Red Data Book. Twice a year, in midsummer (the last Saturday in January) and midwinter (the last Saturday in July), roadcounts are carried out using this standardised method. A standardised method allows one to make comparisons between counts. Even though we do not attempt to count the entire population of a species, the area covered is so large that CAR is statistically capable of demonstrating trends in population size. The project also reveals details of habitat use and the relationship of populations to the agricultural practices of an area.
Routes have been grouped into clusters called precincts. Local Precinct Organisers play a vital role in organising counts in their areas. Currently there are 42 precincts in eight provinces. CAR has thrived on the enthusiastic, voluntary participation of members of bird clubs and farming communities, conservators, schools and interested members of the public. Every six months, over 750 people travel along bumpy country roads, making this one of the largest birder-participation projects in Africa. CAR is coordinated by Amour McCarthy at the Animal Demography Unit.
Approximately 50% of the routes are covered by farmers, thereby fulfilling a major objective in encouraging conservation and bird-friendly land-management practices on private lands. Most large terrestrial birds have huge ranges and are not adequately conserved within protected areas. Farmers manage the majority ofSouth Africa’s land, fully 80% of it. It stands to reason that if conservation does not happen on 80% of the land, it cannot succeed in the country as a whole. The farmer is a vital custodian and steward of our natural wealth and heritage, and we South Africans live in the country that is ranked as the world’s third richest in wildlife! The contribution that farmers and people who work on farms can make to the conservation of these birds and other animal and plant species is enormous.
In 2003, we published a major 200-page report, Big birds on farms: Mazda CAR Report 1993-2001, summarising the information collected over the first eight years. There are accounts for 15 species and 17 precincts, as well as a summary chapter and information about organisations that are helpful to landowners. The report provides advice on how to promote the conservation of these magnificent birds on farm lands. We are grateful to Mazda Wildlife Fund for sponsoring the copies of reports sent out to route leaders and conservation agencies.
In 2007, through involvement in Cape Action for People and the Environment, CAR received funding from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) for a project, Big Birds on Farms, focusing on the Cape Floristic region (CFR). This project has taken CAR a step further enabling increased consultation with landowners, the agricultural sector, conservationists and colleagues and the further development of practical measures that farmers can take leading towards the conservation of biodiversity. Through workshops, questionnaires and presentations insights from experienced farmers have been gathered and a booklet for landowners has been published. This illustrated booklet is divided into three sections: (1) twelve points of general advice on conservation-friendly land management, called the “Desirable Dozen”, and (2) species accounts for eight species of large terrestrial birds, giving interesting information about each species and specific tips on how to manage for their benefit (statistical information for each species is taken from the results of the CAR project), and (3) a list of contacts and references that will be useful for more information and for assistance with farming sustainably. We are most grateful for funding from Land care, The McDowell Trust for the Protection & Conservation of Fauna and Flora and JAH Environmental Consultancy that enabled the publication of this booklet.
PDFs of these booklets, available in Afrikaans and English, are available on http://adu.org.za, in a high and low resolution. Six thousand booklets were printed and have been distributed through the assistance of Landcare to farmers in the Western Cape, as well as throughout South Africa through Precinct Organisers, BirdLife South Africa, and EWT.
In summary, the “Desirable Dozen” best practices are given to guide landowners in their conservation actions for the stewardship of biodiversity:
For further information see the following short articles in the Newsletters below:
Conservation Farming Project - Newsletter 12
The significance of biodiversity - Newsletter 16
Conservation of Biodiversity – Newsletter 17
Climate change, biodiversity and energy – Newsletter 19
Business and Biodiversity – Newsletter 20
Sustainability, Farmland Bird Index and the role of bird watchers – Newsletter 21
Footprints – Newsletter 22
Nine points to care for our land and water and conserve energy – Newsletter 25
Biodiversity Loss – Newsletter 27
We plan to post annual updates of species densities on this website. Summaries of the use of habitat by species and distribution of species are available online.
Sally Hofmeyr has just submitted her PhD, Impacts of environmental change on large terrestrial bird species in South Africa: insights from citizen science data looking at the trends of selected species and the impacts of environmental change. Sally is currently preparing papers for publication in scientific journals. CAR has contributed to Environmental Impact Assessments of developments such as wind farms and new powerlines, as well as changes in land use. CAR increases awareness of large terrestrial birds and their needs, especially amongst rural landowners. CAR also contributes information to monitoring of Important Bird Areas, Endangered Wildlife Trust’s (EWT) African Crane Conservation Programme, the Eskom-EWT Strategic Partnership, the Threatened Grassland Species Programme, the Ground Hornbill Working Group and BirdLife South Africa’s Bustard Working Group and the Southern Bald Ibis Programme. In KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga, where there is concern about game bird populations, observers also include game birds in their counts. The Black Harrier, a low-flying endemic raptor that is easily seen while scanning for large terrestrial birds, is also included nationally in CAR counts to assist the Western Cape Raptor Research Programme at the Percy Fitz Patrick Institute, UCT. A recent development is the inclusion of Oribi in CAR counts in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Eastern Cape. This information contributes to research conducted by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and Endangered Wildlife Trusts's Threatened Grassland Species Programme on this threatened species.
CAR works closely with the African Crane Conservation Programme of the Endangered Wildlife Trust and with the Overberg Crane Group. We value the support of many bird clubs, and especially the small clubs in country towns. In addition, many nature conservationists, in particular Brian Colahan of the Free State Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Ronelle Visagie (EWT) and Christine Pienaar of Northern Cape Department of Environment and Nature Conservation, Craig Whittington-Jones, of the Gauteng Directorate of Nature Conservation, as well as members of Cape Nature and KZN Wildlife do a tremendous amount of work in support of CAR.
This project is in urgent need of funding so that monitoring can continue. Please contact Amour if you are able to assist in any way. Donations are tax deductible.
Please refer to the newsletters and information sheets in the menu on the left for more detailed information about the development of CAR and its methods and results.