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Roost threatened by World Cup

South African airport development threat to three million roosting Barn Swallows

A proposed airport development in South Africa is threatening the winter roosting sites of three million Barn Swallows that journey there after spending breeding months in countries across Europe and other parts of the world.

The development is being proposed by the South African government, apparently to meet the demands of hosting World Cup 2010. BirdLife International objects to the plans on the basis of the site’s global importance for Barn Swallow. The site is to be designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA) based on the fact that numbers represent more than 1% of the global population of Barn Swallows. This equates to more than 8% of the European breeding population.

The roost-site of the Barn Swallows, the Mount Moreland Reedbed, sits on what would be the flight-path for aircraft landing and taking off at the proposed airport extension. Conservationists from BirdLife South Africa are concerned that safety concerns for visiting aircraft will lead to the clearance of the reedbed, removing the roosting site for the swallows. “The swallows roost here in such numbers because of the lack of other suitable roosting areas around KwaZulu-Natal. The site is an island in a surrounding sea of sugar cane plantations. It’s vital. If the reedbeds are cleared, it’s unlikely that these Barn Swallows will find suitable roosting places elsewhere” said Neil Smith, Conservation Division, BirdLife South Africa.

The Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica undertakes one of the world’s most remarkable migrations, with many individuals travelling to breed in Europe and spending the European Winter in Southern Africa. Numbers of Barn Swallows have declined across many European countries, largely as a result of pesticides and other pollutants, partly a result of intensive farming practises. In line with government procedure, the La Mercy airport development, 20 kilometres north of Durban, has had a preliminary Environmental Impact Assessment undertaken to ascertain the possible effects of the development on local wildlife. However, conservationists from Birdlife South Africa are concerned that the resulting jobs, trade and transport that will result from the airport development may tip the balance away from protecting the site’s globally significant populations of swallows. Last weekend five hundred members of local communities in KwaZulu-Natal, visited the Mount Moreland Reedbed to welcome the Barn Swallow in from their migrations, and to show support for the site’s protection.

“This is one of South Africa’s great wildlife spectacles” said Di Dold, Environmental Coordinator for the Wildlife & Environment Society of South Africa: KZN Region, “The swallow's arrival to these grounds is an emblem of the seasons. These are birds of the world, they depend on us all.”

BirdLife South Africa is fully objecting to the development and instead, propose that the site be turned into a protected area, to ensure the Barn Swallows remain in the long-term.

“Sites like the Mount Moreland Reedbed, that are important for large aggregations of birds, are particularly vulnerable to change. Removal of one suitable area can have an enormous impact on bird numbers. For a roost this size, the effect on breeding Barn Swallows numbers would be felt throughout Europe” Stuart Butchart, Global Species Programme Coordinator, BirdLife International.

4th July 2014