Protected area in FS declared

2016-09-07 06:00
AN area around Memel has been declared a protected environment.  Photo: Supplied

AN area around Memel has been declared a protected environment. Photo: Supplied

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MEMEL. Z A spectacular area in the North Eastern Free State around the town of Memel has become the first in the province to be declared a “protected environment”.

This is due to the area’s exceptional natural beauty, diversity of species and significance as a water source.

The 17 456 hectare protected area, known as the Sneeuwberg Protected Environment (SPE), was gazetted on Friday, 29 July.

A “protected environment” is a class of protection under the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act (NEMPAA), which offers the next most secure form of protection after a nature reserve. The fact that protected areas can be proclaimed on privately owned land is made possible through the innovative national Biodiversity Stewardship Programme.

This programme allows for the expansion of protected area networks through ground-breaking legislation and partnerships.

Protected environments require a ma-nagement plan encompassing issues like veld management and wetland protection, while still allowing residents to make a living off the land through activities such as livestock farming and tourism.

The SPE lies within a strategic water source area, feeding rivers that provide water for our cities.

It is also rich in fauna and flora and falls within the Grasslands Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA).

The area is important for unique and threatened bird species, such as the endangered wattled crane, the Southern bald ibis, the blue korhaan, Denham’s bustard, the yellow-breasted pipit and Rudd’s lark.

Other special species that are found in this mountainous grassland environment include the oribi and the giant girdled lizard.

In terms of the Gazette notice, the purpose of the declaration is to:

  • Regulate the area as a buffer zone for the protection of and conservation of the provincial Seekoeivlei Nature Reserve;
  • To enable landowners to take collective action to protect unique and threatened grasslands, wetlands and the associated animals; and,
  • To ensure that “ecosystem services” derived from the area (such as water production) are sustained.

This milestone for the Free State underscores the importance of partnerships in working towards common environmental goals.

In this instance, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) South Africa, BirdLife South Africa, the Department of Economic, Small Business Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (DESTEA) in the Free State, and 12 landowners came together in 2012.

The aim of this was to develop a conservation plan for the valuable biodiversity within the focal area.

With the recent declaration of the SPE, the plan is to build on this success through the establishment of additional private protected areas that are critically important for biodiversity and as water source areas in other parts of the Free State.

Mark Anderson, CEO for BirdLife South Africa said: “The Sneeuwberg Protected Environment is another success story for our birds, grasslands and water resources, providing the springboard for future protected area declarations of this nature in the Free State.

“We applaud MEC Samuel Mashinini for his foresight and the Memel landowners for their commitment to conservation.

“South Africa’s rich diversity of 847 bird species relies on the successful conservation of our 112 IBAs.

“This is, in part dependent on achieving legal protection for priority IBAs, and can be accomplished using innovative mechanisms such as biodiversity stewardship, and through strategic partnerships between NGOs, government and landowners.”

Dr Morné du Plessis, CEO for WWF South Africa said: “I commend the Free State provincial government, landowners and our partners for reaching this significant milestone.

“The declaration of the Sneeuwberg Protected Environment not only recognises the unique biodiversity of South Africa’s grasslands, but also the need for those who live in this beautiful part of the country to sustain their livelihoods through caring for the environment.

“As an important water source area, the well-being of this natural system is of significance to us all.”

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