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Golden Fleece Nature Reserve a cause for celebration

The Rawlins family, who live in the Cedarville flats area near Matatiele in the Eastern Cape grasslands, have a reason to celebrate with the recent declaration of their land as the Golden Fleece Nature Reserve.

The new 289-hectare Eastern Cape nature reserve was gazetted by the MEC Mlungisi Mvoko for Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism in the Eastern Cape province on 8 August 2022 marking the end of a six-years journey. Its aim is to “protect and restore the grasslands and associated aquatic resources, conserve threatened species and apply appropriate livestock stocking rates and fire regimes that promote sustainable land use management”.

Golden Fleece is the remains of what was once a much larger farm and is a water bird haven, encompassing a beautiful wetland area and several streams that feed into the Umzimvubu catchment. Three species of cranes, including the critically endangered Wattled Crane, are regularly seen here as is the endangered African Marsh Harrier.

Georgie Rawlins explains that she and her husband Graeme, moved to this area for lifestyle reasons. After buying the farm, they decided they would commit their land to full nature reserve status because they wished to conserve it for future generations. Their three sons – Samuel (14), Joel (12) and Callum (9) – are also keen nature enthusiasts.

Georgie says: “Where I grew up in Johannesburg, I can see how once open fields and parklands have been replaced with a concrete jungle. I realised that it was not impossible that this land too could be turned into shopping malls and developments in the next 50 to 60 years unless we took steps to protect it. The idea of opting for nature reserve status for the land aligned with our Christian belief in stewardship. For the next 99 years this place will remain untouched. If that’s the legacy we can leave on this Earth, then we’ve done something.”

While the Rawlins family do not farm themselves, they lease out a small portion of the land to a neighbouring farmer who is committed to managing it appropriately.

The declaration also protects the Golden Fleece Nature Reserve from inappropriate land uses and requires that a management plan be implemented with regards to grazing, fire and the management of invasive alien species.

For WWF’s Thembanani Nsibande, the Golden Fleece declaration has seen his journey in this area come full circle.

“It’s very close to my heart because this was one of the first sites I negotiated when I first joined the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency. For me this is a big milestone and also a mark I’ve made in the Eastern Cape Drakensberg Landscape.”

Malaika Koali-Lebona, Manager of the Biodiversity Stewardship Programme with the ECPTA said they were proud to have Golden Fleece Nature Reserve declared for conservation because it contributed to the country’s protected areas estate in many ways, in particular because it fell within the uMzimvubu Catchment which is part of a Strategic Water Source Area.

Its proximity to Cedarville Protected Environment, Matatiele wetlands and Matatiele Nature Reserve, it links with other proposed areas such as Grootvlei and Coldstream to protect the unprotected East Griqualand Grasslands and Mabela Sandy Grasslands vegetation types. This area is critical for protection of the habitats for numerous threatened bird species such as Bearded Vulture (EN) Cape Vulture (Griffon) (VU), Wattled Crane (CR) Grey Crowned Crane (VU).

ECPTA wished to thank the Rawlins family for setting aside their precious Golden Fleece farm as a nature reserve. This is the second privately owned and managed nature reserve to be declared within the North Eastern Grasslands Priority Area.

This work was made possible through a collaboration with the ECPTA, the Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism in the Eastern Cape (DEDEAT), Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and the Global Environmental Facility Fund (known as GEF-5 Project) received through The South African National Parks (SANParks).

The work towards securing more grasslands for conservation, which started with GEF 5 funding over six years ago, is now being continued with further funding from the WWF Nedbank Green Trust in partnership with the ECPTA.

For the next three years, the aim is to secure a further 15 000 hectares of grasslands, finalise outstanding protected area management plans, co-develop annual operational plans with landowners, engage with new landowners and complete further biodiversity site assessments.

The Golden Fleece Nature Reserve in the Eastern Cape was gazetted in August 2022.

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