Birdwatching is a popular and fast growing pastime, and there are tens of thousands of birdwatchers in South Africa. Many international birdwatchers also visit our country due to the diversity of bird species which are found nowhere else in the world..  According to a recent study commissioned by the Department of Trade and Industry, the avitourism industry contributes an estimated R1 billion per annum to the South

African economy.

There are many important bird-watching localities in South Africa, some of which cater specifically for birdwatchers.

There are more than 250 bird hides which allow birdwatchers to get close to birds in their natural habitats.  These hides are used to watch, study and photograph birds without disturbing them.

It is important to BirdLife South Africa that bird hides are carefully designed, properly constructed and well maintained. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, as some hides have been poorly planned and built, and despite l good intentions bird hides often fall into disrepair. It is also unfortunate that many hides are not accessible to all people, such as   people in wheelchairs, the elderly, parents with small children and people who have difficulty walking. With a bit more planning and consideration for people who have mobility impairments, many hides can be made more accessible. 

In order to address the above mentioned problems and to improve the quality of hides in South Africa, BirdLife South Africa, recently published a document entitled, “A guide to building universally accessible bird hides”. The document contains 30 pages of text and 59 figures in the form of photos, sketches and technical drawings. The text covers topics such as ethical issues

to consider when building a hide, the design process, legal considerations, placement of a hide, construction materials to be used, signage, the specifications that a hide must adhere to, boardwalk designs, and floor plans.

The FirstRand Foundation and the Rand Merchant Bank Fund is thanked for the financial contributions to this project and also for making BirdLife South Africa aware of the important issue of accessibility.

During the period of 2014/15, BirdLife South Africa will continue to promote the use of bird hides by publishing information on this topic on the BirdLife South Africa website. These findings will include an accessibility rating, safety considerations, directions to the hide and other interesting information. BirdLife South Africa would welcome any feedback about bird hides that should be considered for publication on the website.

Hopefully, the guideline document will contribute to better and more accessible bird hides which can be enjoyed by all nature lovers in South Africa.