Grasslands | WWF South Africa

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Grasslands

Vast treeless areas spanning KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, the Free State and Eastern Cape make up the Grasslands biome. These are home to most of our country’s strategic water source areas. Yet these vital water-producing Grasslands are under significant pressure from poorly planned developments, poor management and neglect.

What is the issue?

The Grasslands are in desperate need of conservation, mostly because they are currently under-protected and contain the majority of South Africa’s water source areas and rivers that feed our major cities and provide water for food production.
 
Further downstream, Grassland wetlands act like giant sponges with the ground absorbing and retaining rainwater. Some wetlands in the biome have been recognised as internationally-acclaimed ‘Ramsar wetlands’ which are essential for supporting the web of life including many threatened species.
 
The Grasslands are also home to unique and endemic birdlife including the largest crane in Africa – the wattled crane – and our national bird, the blue crane. There are many eco-tourism and economic opportunities for those dependent on the land, such as valuable grass rangelands for rural communities to rear cattle. But, growing demands on these natural resources from mining, urban development and overgrazing can be greatly destructive and put these ecosystems at risk of collapse. 

What are we doing?

WWF works with rural communities and commercial farmers in the Grasslands to ensure that biodiversity-rich land is well-managed under voluntary agreements. 

How do we do this?

WWF works closely with government conservation agencies to identify conservation-worthy areas to be declared as protected areas. WWF’s work thus contributes to government’s national strategy for a network of protected areas.
 
From these identified areas, WWF supports private and communal landowners to establish biodiversity stewardship agreements and management plans. WWF also facilitates critical training in fire and rangeland management. 

Who do we work with?

WWF works in partnership with the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), provincial conservation agencies, private landowners and rural communities, local agriculture and water authorities and partner NGOs.

How did it start?

WWF Nedbank Green Trust provided seed funding over 15 years ago to conduct systematic conservation planning in a flagship area known as the Enkangala Grasslands focal region. Over time, the Enkangala Grasslands Programme evolved into the WWF Grasslands Programme.
 
During this time, a partnership was initiated with SANBI which focused on mainstreaming biodiversity into four economic sectors and land uses – agriculture, forestry, mining and urban development.  

What are the big wins?

  1. Since the programme started, more than 130 000 hectares of vital Grasslands land has been incorporated into WWF’s Grasslands biodiversity stewardship initiative within KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, and the Free State.  

  2. As a result of this work, the first protected environment in South Africa (and the first in Mpumalanga) was declared in 2010. Building on this success, other protected environments have since been declared.

  3. In 2016, the Free State declared its first protected environment – the Sneeuwberg Protected Environment. Situated around the village of Memel, close to the borders of both KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga, this protected environment is a birding hotspot and an important water source area.

  4. For over a decade, WWF has provided ongoing support to remote land reform communities like the deep rural Mgundeni community in northern KwaZulu-Natal. They were the first community in KwaZulu-Natal, in 2009, to sign a biodiversity stewardship agreement on communally-owned land. Today, WWF works with nine rural communities across the Grasslands.