email a friend
printable version
Location South Africa, Western Cape
Central coordinates 18o 16.00' East  32o 47.00' South
IBA criteria A4i
Area 6,621 ha
Altitude 0 - 30m
Year of IBA assessment 2001

BirdLife South Africa



Summary The Berg River wetland IBA covers an area of approximately 6 621 ha and is located 140 km north of Cape Town. From its source, the river flows through the towns of Paarl and Wellington before arching west, meeting the Atlantic Ocean at Laaiplek. Since 1975, approximately 250 bird species have been recorded on and adjacent to the Lower Berg River; 127 of which are waterbirds.

Site description The Berg river wetlands are located 140 km north of Cape Town. The town of Laaiplek lies directly north of the river mouth; 6 km upstream of the mouth lies the town of Velddrif. The Berg river forms one of only four perennial estuaries on the arid west coast of southern Africa. The IBA includes only the lower Berg river, but this system is reliant on the management of its catchment, which extends c.160 km upstream from the river mouth to its source in the Franschhoek and Drakenstein mountains.

In addition to the river channel, the flood-plain encompasses eight major wetland types: ephemeral pans, commercial saltpans, reed-marsh, sedge-marsh, saltmarsh, halophytic flood-plain, xeric flood-plain and intertidal mudflats. The ephemeral pans comprise monospecific stands of Juncus during summer. After winter rains, abundant Aponogeton develops, along with other aquatic plants. Reed-marsh is found mainly on inner riverine beds, and is dominated by Phragmites, Scirpus or Cyperus. Sedge-marshes are dominated by Juncus, with smaller sedge species occurring in a varied mosaic. The saltmarsh experiences tidal flooding by saline water twice a day and is dominated by fleshy-leaved salt-tolerant species. Halophytic flood-plain vegetation consists primarily of Sarcocornia, which may be interspersed with open patches, which are colonized by ephemeral growth during spring. The xeric flood-plain vegetation is highly diverse. Succulents include Mesembryanthemaceae and Asparagaceae. Rhus and Lycium bushes also occur. The flood-plain can be inundated for up to two weeks at a time when the Berg river floods.

Key Biodiversity See Box for key species. An analysis of the importance of South Africa’s estuaries for wetland birds consistently showed the Berg river wetlands to be in the top three and, along with Lake St Lucia (IBA ZA044) and Langebaan Lagoon (IBA ZA084), it was considered to be an indispensable site for waterbird conservation in South Africa. Since 1975, approximately 250 bird species have been recorded on and adjacent to the lower Berg river; 127 of which are waterbirds.The most important habitats for foraging birds are the estuarine mudflats and ephemeral flood-plain pans. The most important breeding sites are riparian marshes and the commercial saltpans. On average, more than 12,000 non-passerine waterbirds occur at the estuary during summer and 6,000 non-passerine waterbirds during winter. A count of both the estuary and the flood-plain yielded 46,234 waterbirds in December 1992, and in combination, the estuary and flood-plain regularly support over 20,000 birds.

Waterbird numbers are strongly influenced by the influx of Palearctic migrants, and more than 8,000 migrant waders are regularly present in summer, especially Calidris ferruginea and C. minuta. The commercial saltpans support many breeding species, including very large numbers of Sterna caspia, incorporating up to 13% of the South African breeding population. Charadrius pallidus breed here regularly. Larus dominicanus and L. hartlaubii are resident at the Berg river and occur in large numbers, breeding in midsummer and early winter respectively. Sterna bergii breed sporadically. Large numbers of Pelecanus onocrotalus occur regularly on the lower Berg river, which is a key foraging and roosting area for the Dassen Island (IBA ZA088) breeding population during the non-breeding season.Podiceps cristatus and P. nigricollis breed occasionally. Tadorna cana use the estuary in large numbers as a moulting site and they also breed regularly. Anas undulata, A. capensis, A. smithii and Fulica cristata breed in the inundated saltmarshes in the upper estuary. There is a large heronry c.1 km west of the Kersefontein farmhouse. The heronry, which is known to have existed for the past 300 years, holds 13 breeding species, including substantial numbers of Mesophoyx intermedia, Platalea alba and Plegadis falcinellus (which appears to be increasing).

Non-bird biodiversity: Three endemic, highly localized and threatened reptiles occur on the xeric flood-plain of the Berg river: the west-coast endemic Scelotes gronovii (LR/nt), S. kasneri (VU) and Cordylus macropholis all occur here. A fourth threatened reptile, Psammophis leightoni, is also found on the flood-plain.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Cape Shoveler Spatula smithii winter  113-603 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus winter  1,564-3,932 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
African Spoonbill Platalea alba resident  20-50 breeding pairs  A4i  Least Concern 
African Spoonbill Platalea alba winter  152-294 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta winter  236-2,273 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Kittlitz's Plover Charadrius pecuarius resident  200-400 breeding pairs  A4i  Least Concern 
Kittlitz's Plover Charadrius pecuarius winter  496-1,087 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea winter  8,281-16,881 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Kelp Gull Larus dominicanus breeding  250-500 breeding pairs  A4i  Least Concern 
Kelp Gull Larus dominicanus winter  657-1,640 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Hartlaub's Gull Larus hartlaubii breeding  500-670 breeding pairs  A4i  Least Concern 
Hartlaub's Gull Larus hartlaubii winter  1,341-2,030 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia non-breeding  106-199 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Greater Crested Tern Thalasseus bergii winter  160-646 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Sandwich Tern Thalasseus sandvicensis winter  695-1,555 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus winter  394-2,623 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 

IBA Monitoring

2013 very high not assessed negligible
  unset
Medium - based upon reliable but incomplete / partially representative data

Agriculture and aquaculture annual & perennial non-timber crops - agro-industry farming happening now majority/most of area/population (50-90%) very rapid to severe deterioration very high
Agriculture and aquaculture livestock farming and ranching (includes forest grazing) - agro-industry grazing, ranching or farmin happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium
Biological resource use fishing & harvesting aquatic resources - unintentional effects: subsistence/small scale happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium
Biological resource use hunting & collecting terrestrial animals - intentional use (species being assessed is the target) happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium
Climate change and severe weather drought happening now majority/most of area/population (50-90%) slow but significant deterioration high
Energy production and mining mining and quarrying happening now small area/few individuals (<10%) slow but significant deterioration low
Energy production and mining renewable energy likely in short term (within 4 years) some of area/population (10-49%) moderate to rapid deterioration medium
Human intrusions and disturbance recreational activities happening now majority/most of area/population (50-90%) moderate to rapid deterioration high
Human intrusions and disturbance work and other activities happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium
Invasive & other problematic species, genes & diseases introduced genetic material happening now small area/few individuals (<10%) slow but significant deterioration low
Invasive & other problematic species, genes & diseases invasive non-native/alien species/diseases - named species happening now some of area/population (10-49%) moderate to rapid deterioration high
Invasive & other problematic species, genes & diseases problematic native species/diseases - named species happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium
Invasive & other problematic species, genes & diseases problematic native species/diseases - unspecified species happening now some of area/population (10-49%) moderate to rapid deterioration high
Natural system modifications dams & water management/use - large dams happening now some of area/population (10-49%) moderate to rapid deterioration high
Natural system modifications fire & fire suppression - increase in fire frequency/intensity likely in short term (within 4 years) some of area/population (10-49%) moderate to rapid deterioration medium
Pollution agricultural & forestry effluents - nutrient loads happening now majority/most of area/population (50-90%) moderate to rapid deterioration high
Pollution air-borne pollutants - type unknown/unrecorded happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium
Pollution domestic & urban waste water - type unknown/unrecorded happening now majority/most of area/population (50-90%) moderate to rapid deterioration high
Pollution excess energy - noise pollution likely in short term (within 4 years) some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium
Pollution garbage & solid waste happening now majority/most of area/population (50-90%) moderate to rapid deterioration high
Pollution industrial & military effluents - type unknown/unrecorded likely in short term (within 4 years) some of area/population (10-49%) moderate to rapid deterioration medium
Residential and commercial development commercial and industrial development happening now some of area/population (10-49%) moderate to rapid deterioration high
Residential and commercial development housing and urban areas happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium
Residential and commercial development tourism and recreation areas happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium
Transportation and service corridors flight paths happening now some of area/population (10-49%) no or imperceptible deterioration low
Transportation and service corridors roads and railroads happening now some of area/population (10-49%) moderate to rapid deterioration high
Transportation and service corridors utility & service lines happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium

Wetlands (inland)   0 0 moderate (70-90%) poor (40-69%) very unfavourable

Little/none of site covered (<10%)  No management planning has taken place  Very little or no conservation action taking place  negligible 

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Cape West Coast UNESCO-MAB Biosphere Reserve 378,240 protected area contains site 6,621  

Local conservation groups The local conservation groups below are working to support conservation at this IBA.

Name Year formed
West coast bird club 0
Heritage society 0
Botanical society 0
Lower berg river conservation association 0

Habitats

IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Wetlands (inland) Salt marshes; Saltpans  -
Rocky areas   3%
Grassland   96%

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
nature conservation and research -
tourism/recreation -
water management 30%

References Cooper et al. (1976), Day (1981), de Witt et al. (1994), Hockey (1993), Hockey and Hockey (1980), Hockey and Velasquez (1992), Hockey et al. (1992), Kalejta (1991, 1992a,b,c), Kalejta and Hockey (1994), Little (1993), Summers et al. (1977), Turpie (1995), van Wyk (1983), Velasquez (1992, 1993), Velasquez and Hockey (1992), Velasquez et al. (1991).

Contribute  Please click here to help BirdLife conserve the world's birds - your data for this IBA and others are vital for helping protect the environment.

Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2015) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Berg River Estuary . Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 29/05/2015

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife