SA gets its 30th Ramsar wetlands site, near Dullstroom in Mpumalanga

The Verloren Vallei Ramsar site lies adjacent to the new Ramsar-proclaimed Die Berg Nature Reserve in Mpumalanga.
The Verloren Vallei Ramsar site lies adjacent to the new Ramsar-proclaimed Die Berg Nature Reserve in Mpumalanga.

South Africa is now the proud owner of 30 Ramsar sites after De Berg Nature Reserve in Mpumalanga was recently declared one.

A Ramsar site is a wetland site designated to be of international importance under the Ramsar Convention, also known as the Convention on Wetlands, an international environmental treaty signed on February 2 1971 in Ramsar, Iran, under the auspices of Unesco. 

Minister of forestry, fisheries and the environment Barbara Creecy welcomed the declaration of the reserve as a Ramsar site.

“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,” said Creecy.

Through the Working for Wetlands Programme, the department has invested more than R1.4bn in the rehabilitation of 1,873 wetlands and created 43,662 jobs.

“Working for Wetlands, which started in 2000, is being implemented in all nine provinces by a dedicated team of experts working closely with communities,” Creecy added.

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

At just over 2,300m  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 pristine and habitat diverse watercourses in the South African grassland biome.

The biodiversity hotspot not only supports numerous pristine headwater wetlands but also numerous threatened, critically endangered and vulnerable species of plants and animals.

The site falls within the Lydenburg and Sekhukhune centres of plant endemism and has 878 indigenous plant species, including 30 that are threatened and near threatened. It  includes 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 cranes such as blue crane and grey-crowned crane, and mountain reedbuck.

Many of these species are rare and vulnerable and include flocks of up to 30 of the vulnerable southern bald ibis which roosts on the cliffs above Ibis Falls, one of 10 iconic waterfalls which can be found at the site.

Though wetlands cover less than 3% of South Africa’s land area, they 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 our wetlands are in urban areas and are often the last remaining open areas for recreational use by the public.

“The South African National Biodiversity Institute (Sanbi) — an entity of the department — is actively contributing to wetland conservation through its comprehensive approach to mapping and understanding this critical ecological infrastructure, emphasising that informed action today can make a significant difference for the future of wetlands, human wellbeing and biodiversity.

“Strategic water source areas (SWSAs) are crucial to South Africa’s water security and various Sanbi projects provide insight into land use and protection levels in these strategically important national assets,” said Creecy.

“Through the development of partnerships to monitor, protect and rehabilitate wetlands, by ensuring our wetlands are kept free of litter and invasive alien plant species and by ensuring that we follow best practices to ensure that wetlands are sustainably used for their services we show our appreciation for and acknowledge the value of wetlands and ensure that they remain in place to provide future generations with the same services,” Creecy said.