Great gains for the conservation of South Africa’s grasslands and wetlands



Posted on 30 January 2014
The declaration of five new protected areas in Mpumalanga will see the addition of 73 000 hectares of important grassland habitat to the network of protected areas in the province.
© Angus Burns
A major milestone for the conservation of South Africa’s grasslands and wetlands was reached on 22 January 2014 when the MEC for Economic Development, Environment and Tourism, Ms Pinky Phosa, declared five new protected areas in Mpumalanga.

South Africa’s grasslands are poorly represented in formal protected areas and this declaration will now add over 73 000 hectares of important grassland habitat to the network of protected areas within the Province.

The new protected areas are as follows:
  • The Chrissiesmeer Protected Environment (60 203 hectares);
  • The Kwamandlangampisi Protected Environment, near Wakkerstroom which is extended by 3 094 hectares;
  • The Mabola Protected Environment (8 772 hectares), also near Wakkerstroom;The Tafelkop Nature Reserve (1 208 hectares); and
  • The first community-owned protected environment in Mpumalanga, known as the Mndawe Trust Protected Environment (826 hectares), near Lydenburg.
CEO of the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA), Jacque Modipane, commented: “The protection of these properties under National Legislation, not only secures important areas of grassland biodiversity for future generations, but also enables landowners within these protected areas to work collectively to conserve their land, to implement sustainable land use practices and to safeguard against land uses that could end up destroying the area.”

“Furthermore Chrissiesmeer and Wakkerstroom are important tourism hubs within the province and the protection of these sites will enable the continued development of tourism opportunities within these areas.”

In all of these recently declared sites, biodiversity stewardship has been a critical factor in enabling cost effective protected area expansion. It avoids taking land out of agricultural production, and has offered land owners a way to contribute to national biodiversity targets and benefit from incentives under biodiversity stewardship.

This momentous achievement was made possible through the collaborative efforts of Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency, the South African National Biodiversity Institute’s (SANBI) Grasslands Programme, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF SA) and BirdLife South Africa (BLSA).

It is the result of long and fruitful partnerships that began as early as 2006 and formed part of the Mpumalanga Biodiversity Stewardship Programme, which aims to secure privately owned land within formal protected areas.

Grasslands host a number of endemic and threatened bird species, while wetlands like the Chrissiemeer pans support large populations of water birds.

BirdLife South Africa prioritised the critically important yet, highly threatened grassland biome for conservation in 2010 and, with funding from the WWF Nedbank Green Trust, was able to meaningfully contribute to this partnership and the declaration of the Chrissiessmeer Protected Environment and other sites.

“These sites all fall within the Grassland Biome and the Chrissiesmeer Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs). Chrissiesmeer pans and surrounding grasslands are immensely important for waterbirds and for threatened grassland birds, such as the African Grass Owl.” says Mark Anderson, CEO of BirdLife South Africa.

The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) focuses on the conservation of threatened species and their habitats. Both Wakkerstroom and the Chrissiesmeer Lakes District are proposed Ramsar sites (wetlands of international importance) and provide critical habitat for numerous threatened species. The EWT spearheaded landowner engagements in Chrissiesmeer which culminated in the declaration of the Chrissiesmeer Protected Environment.

“We are excited about this conservation milestone especially in the light of the development pressures these areas face. The EWT would like to extend its appreciation to our partners and to the MEC for her visionary commitment to biodiversity conservation in Mpumalanga,” says Ursula Franke, Senior Field Officer for the EWT’s African Crane Conservation Programme.

WWF-SA began its partnership with the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency in 2006 through Biodiversity Stewardship initiatives within the grasslands located in the Wakkerstroom area, which resulted in the declaration of the Kwamandlangampisi Protected Environment in 2010. The subsequent expansion of this work through these recent declarations is of major consequence given pressures from unsustainable development proposals that threaten this unique area.

Morne du Plessis, CEO of WWF South Africa, congratulated the MEC and the partners for achieving this milestone.

“Not only are these sites places of immense beauty and home to special plants and animals, but their protection also secures and enhances water and food production – our lifeblood. The location of these new declarations fall entirely within South Africa’s Water Source Areas that have greatest strategic value for sustaining our economy”.

“We encourage the continued expansion of these protected areas for the benefit of all South Africans and the environment they live in,” he said. SANBI CEO, Dr. Tanya Abrahamse, added: “The MEC has displayed great vision in ensuring these important areas continue to play a key role in the sustainable development of the province. Areas like Chrissiesmeer and the greater KwaMandlangampisi Protected Environment are not only important for the biodiversity they hold, they are also critical in ensuring the water security of local communities, the province and the country.”

“To this end, SANBI has been a firm supporter of biodiversity stewardship which enables landowners, in partnership with the state, to manage their land for the contribution it makes towards ensuring healthy intact ecosystems, support human well-being and development.”

Through the Grasslands Programme, SANBI has supported the biodiversity stewardship programme of MTPA and worked with the NGO partners that support stewardship.

 
The declaration of five new protected areas in Mpumalanga will see the addition of 73 000 hectares of important grassland habitat to the network of protected areas in the province.
© Angus Burns Enlarge