Barberspan and Leeupan

Year of compilation: 2001

Site description
Situated 15 km north-east of Delareyville, these two pans, along with Klippan, are in a closed basin at 1,350 m. Barberspan is a large (6 × 4 km), permanent, shallow (max. depth 11 m), alkaline lake, which has its own small catchment of 30 km². It is the largest of a series of pans in the fossil bed of the Paleo-Harts river. The lake is fed by the Harts river and is situated in open flat grassland that can be described as a great undulating plain, much of which is cultivated for summer crops, such as maize, sunflowers and groundnuts. The nearby Leeupan is connected to Barberspan via a narrow channel. Leeupan is saline, shallow, and is subject to considerable fluctuations in water-level, drying up in most winters. This often results in conditions that are favourable for some wetland species but adverse for others.

The marginal vegetation is comprised primarily of rushes and sedges, especially Juncus and Cyperus. Aquatic vegetation is dominated by Potamogeton. Located at the ecotone of three biomes, the terrestrial vegetation consists of dry sandy highveld grassland, with Karoo invaders, and clumps of well-developed Kalahari thornveld (thickets of Acacia, Rhus and Diospyros) scattered throughout.

Key biodiversity
See Box for key species. More than 320 bird species have been recorded at the site and in the surrounding nature reserve. Barberspan is particularly important as a drought refuge and a moulting site for waterbirds, which congregate in large numbers (exceeding 20,000 individuals) during the dry season (April–October) when all the small wetlands in the surrounding districts have dried up completely. All but one of South Africa’s indigenous duck species have been recorded here. The waterbirds disperse to breed in sheltered temporary pans and vleis once the summer rains arrive. Breeding species include Charadrius pallidus and Sterna caspia, which occur sporadically at low densities. Fulica cristata almost

always breed in huge numbers: once over 12,000 breeding pairs were recorded.Barberspan is also vitally important for regionally nomadic waterbirds and as a stop-over site for Palearctic migrant waders. The water-level determines which species are present on the pans. When low, conditions are suitable for large numbers of waders. In wet years, the shoreline consists of mainly inundated grassland, which results in large numbers of herons, egrets and Podiceps cristatus moving in to breed. During the austral summer, the adjacent Barberspan Nature Reserve supports many migrant Falco naumanni, while resident Cercomela sinuata, Cercotrichas paena, Laniarius atrococcineus and Malcorus pectoralis breed here.

Non-bird biodiversity: None known to BirdLife International.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
In 1954 the old Transvaal Provincial Administration (TPA) Nature Conservation Division purchased 452 ha of land around the strategic, shallow, northern end of Barberspan, where bird densities are the greatest. During the 1970s and 1980s the administration gradually acquired more land, and converted it into a Bird Sanctuary and Nature Reserve, including the entire shoreline of Barberspan. Leeupan is as yet unprotected. The pan was designated a Ramsar Site in 1975.It is the permanence of water, caused by the diversion of flow from the Harts river into Barberspan, that makes the pan so important. Indications from recent research suggest that Barberspan is slowly silting up, which may significantly change the ecological character of the site. Any interference with the river channels will deprive the pan of its water. The reserve is divided into two areas. With the intensification of crop-growing in the district, the sanctuary will be the only area in the region protecting good portions of the now highly fragmented dry sandy highveld grassland (although the area was cultivated prior to protection). The reserve should be enlarged or managed to include the entire basin (including Leeupan), together with the flood-plain, and the system should be managed as a single unit.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Barberspan and Leeupan. Downloaded from on 22/01/2021.