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De Berg Nature Reserve designated as country’s thirtieth Ramsar site

An image of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Minister Barbara Creecy

Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Minister Barbara Creecy has welcomed the declaration of the De Berg Nature Reserve as South Africa’s thirtieth Ramsar site under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance

2nd February 2024

By: Tasneem Bulbulia

Senior Contributing Editor Online

     

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Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Minister Barbara Creecy has welcomed the declaration of the De Berg Nature Reserve as South Africa’s thirtieth Ramsar site under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance.

De Berg Nature Reserve is located along the headwaters of the Dwars river in the highest part of Mpumalanga, about 20 km north of the town of Dullstroom, and lies adjacent to the Verloren Vallei Ramsar site.

At an elevation of just over 2 300 m above sea level, the Ramsar site contains the highest altitude wetlands in Mpumalanga, consisting of numerous valley bottom, seep wetlands and mountain streams and represents some of the most habitat-diverse watercourses in the South African grassland biome, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) outlines.

The Ramsar site, which is a biodiversity hotspot, supports numerous headwater wetlands, as well as several threatened, critically endangered and vulnerable species of plants and animals, the department points out.

The site falls within the Lydenburg and Sekhukhune centres of plant endemism and has a total of 878 indigenous plant species, which includes 30 plant species that are threatened and near threatened including a new species of Bulbine, (B decastroi) which can be found in the valleys of the reserve.

This site also has 18 species of frogs, 71 reptile species, 432 bird species and 120 mammal species, including Vandam’s girdled lizard (Smaug vandami), various crane species such as blue crane and grey-crowned crane and mountain reedbuck.

Many of these species are also rare and vulnerable species and include flocks of up to 30 of the vulnerable Southern Bald Ibis which roosts on the cliffs above Ibis Falls, one of ten waterfalls which can be found at the site.

The Ramsar Convention is an intergovernmental treaty adopted on February 2, 1971, in Ramsar (Iranian City) and currently has 172 contracting parties.

South Africa became a contracting party to the Ramsar Convention in 1975, becoming the fifth signatory to the Convention.

The Ramsar Convention encourages the designation of sites containing representative, rare, or unique wetlands, or wetlands that are important for conserving biological diversity.

Once designated, these sites are added to the Convention’s List of Wetlands of International Importance and become known as Ramsar sites.

In designating a wetland as a Ramsar site, countries agree to establish and oversee a management framework aimed at conserving the wetland and ensuring its wise use.

Wise use under the convention is broadly defined as maintaining the ecological character of a wetland.

Wetlands can be included on the List of Wetlands of International Importance because of their ecological, botanical, zoological, limnological or hydrological importance. 

For a wetland to be designated to this list, it must satisfy one or more of the criteria for identifying wetlands of international importance.

This includes sites with rare wetland types that are in a good condition, and which support the critical life cycle stages of threatened species or of species that are rare both globally and in South Africa.

They also include places where more than 20 000 bird species may be found or where more than 1% of a population of a specific bird species occurs.

The Ramsar criteria also apply to wetland areas that support other species of conservation concern such as rare, and threatened, fish, plants, reptiles and mammals, especially when they occur in large numbers.

South Africa currently has 30 Ramsar sites.

Each site is managed by a dedicated management authority which includes national and provincial government departments and conservation agencies, cities, and private landowners, often supported by the activities of various non-governmental organisations.

“The conservation and restoration of wetlands is crucial to achieving many of our national and Global Sustainable Development goals. Estuaries, marshes and vleis, rivers and lakes, and the biodiversity that they preserve, matter for our health, food supply, tourism and jobs.

“Wetlands are vital for humans, ecosystems and our climate, providing essential ecosystem services such as water regulation, including flood control and water purification,” Creecy highlights.

Through the Working for Wetlands Programme, the DFFE has invested over R1.4-billion in the rehabilitation of 1 873 wetlands and created 43 662 jobs, she informs.

The Working for Wetlands Programme, which started in 2000, is being implemented in all nine provinces of South Africa by a dedicated team of experts working closely with communities, she adds.

Although wetlands cover less than 3% of South Africa’s land area, they are said to offer diverse benefits that enrich human wellbeing.

Wetlands are increasingly regarded in South Africa as socio-ecological systems as opposed to only ecological systems.

Many of the country’s wetlands are in urban areas and are often the last remaining open areas for recreational use by the public, the department points out.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

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