National 8.9.2016 03:16 pm

Free State declares first protected environment

An area of the north-eastern Free State around the village of Memel has become the first in the province to be declared a “protected environment”.

An area of the north-eastern Free State around the village of Memel has become the first in the province to be declared a “protected environment”.

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

 An area of the northeastern Free State around the village 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 area. The 17 456-hectare protected area, known as the Sneeuwberg Protected Environment (SPE), was gazetted on Friday, July 29, 2016.

An area of the north-eastern Free State around the village of Memel has become the first in the province to be declared a “protected environment”.

An area of the north-eastern Free State around the village of Memel has become the first in the province to be declared a “protected environment”.

A statement from the World Wide Fund (WWF) For Nature South Africa describes a “protected environment” as 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 our protected area network through groundbreaking legislation and partnerships.

Protected environments require a management 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.

Morné Du Plessis, CEO for WWF South Africa: “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 wellbeing of this natural system is of significance to us all.”

The Sneeuwberg Protected Environment 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 threatened Wattled Crane, Southern Bald Ibis, Blue Korhaan, Denham’s Bustard, Yellow-breasted Pipit and Rudd’s Lark. Other special species to occur in this mountainous grassland environment include the Oribi and 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, 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 to develop a conservation plan for the valuable biodiversity within the focal area.

With the declaration of the Sneeuwberg Protected Environment, 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.

Caxton News Service

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