A new declaration will see the formal protection of a 25 000 ha area between the towns of Paulpietersburg and Utrecht within the Amajuba and Zululand district municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal.
The new Elandsberg Protected Environment, which was gazetted on May 13, is a significant step in efforts to secure South Africa’s most significant water source areas.
The new protected area lies in the watershed between the Thukela and Phongolo primary catchments, both of which are significant river systems that have a great many downstream users, including major irrigation systems, urban centres and rural users, all of which depend on the sustained flow of clean water.
A protected environment is one step below a national or provincial nature reserve and enjoys formal protection with major conservation gains.
“This achievement has contributed to bringing over 65 000 ha within a critical water source area under this form of protection, including communally owned land,” said WWF South Africa CEO Dr Morné du Plessis.
Among the activities that will now be encouraged and sustained through this declaration are sustainable range management practices, such as correct stocking of livestock and appropriate fire management.
In addition, the declaration will prevent incompatible land-use practices from taking place in this sensitive environment.
“This comes after many years of work and one cannot over emphasise the importance of this area for regional water security. The protection of catchment integrity is a very significant goal for this protected environment,” added WWF South Africa land and biodiversity stewardship portfolio senior manager Angus Burns.
“The 18 landowners of the Elandsberg Protected Environment need to be applauded for their commitment and willingness to secure their properties as part of this protected environment. This recognition of the importance of their land and how they manage it for biodiversity and water provision is the cornerstone of conservation efforts,” said Conservation Outcomes director Kevin McCann.
The new protected environment also makes a significant contribution towards securing the land needed to achieve conservation targets within KwaZulu-Natal by protecting vulnerable and endangered vegetation types along with listed fauna and flora, including three species of cranes and the largest breeding colony of the southern bald ibis.
Its rolling landscape vistas are an interesting mix of grasslands, forests, wetlands and riparian areas, and its many cultural and historic sites also offer tourism potential, while the intact, natural vegetation in the high mountains offers protection against climate change by reducing flooding risks, besides others.
The new protected environment establishes corridors between nearby protected areas, namely the Pongola Bush Nature Reserve and Pongola Bush Protected Environment in KwaZulu-Natal, as well as the Kwa-Mandlangampisi Protected Environment in Mpumalanga.