Located between the South African towns of Wakkerstroom and Luneburg, the KwaMandlangampisi Protected Environment - named after a local mountain - encompasses high altitude grasslands, wetlands and indiginous mist-belt forests that are home to a variety of wildlife including South Africa's three crane species and the rare Oribi. It also forms a critical water catchment area for two rivers and a dam which provide clean water and electricity for the entire region.
The declaration of the area as a Protected Environment has been hailed as a conservation success story by South African conservationists, as the grasslands have also been under threat as prospecting rights for coal mining in the Wakkerstroom/Luneburg area raised fears of future development in the area. The case received considerable international attention (see: BirdLife International's Press Release from 14 November 2008) as the extraction of coal in the region would destroy habitats used by over 300 bird species including South Africa's national bird, the Blue Crane (Grus paradisea).
Efforts by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Nedbank's Green Trust, supported by campaigns carried out by BirdLife South Africa and the local commitment and involvement of farmers have lead to the successful declaration of the area as a Protected Environment and have removed the immediate mining threat.
The local farmers, together with WWF, BirdLife South Africa and the Botanical Society launched two high court applications to get the prospecting rights set aside, whereby the mining company ultimately abandoned its rights and recently concluded settlement negotiations with the affected parties.
Angus Burns (WWF South Africa and Coordinator of the Enkangala Grasslands Project), who gave a presentation on the ecological importance of the Wakkerstroom Wetland area to participants of the WOW Project Meeting in Wakkerstroom in March 2010 , also played an important role in this positive outcome. Working closely with farmers, communities and the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA), he has been part of an eight-year drive by the WWF and Nedbank's Greent Trust to recognize the critical water production role of the high-altitude grasslands in the Mpumalanga area.
"Working towards this Protected Environment has been a true partnership between many different collaborators and we are all really excited that so many years of hard work have paid off. The precedent for Protected Environments has been established and it can only get better from here." said Angus in an interview he gave West Cape News in September 2010.
• "Protected environment victory for SA" Article in West Cape News / Published: 21 September 2010
WOW Demonstration Project in Wakkerstroom
In an effort to promote the equitable distribution of tourism income around Wakkerstroom, BirdLife South Africa, through support from the WOW project, has managed to successfully develop the capacity of the local communities in and around Wakkerstroom to manage the key wetland sites and to protect Wakkerstroom's birdlife, while also enhancing community livelihoods through environmentally friendly and economically viable income-generating activities.
The community projects supported by WOW in Wakkerstroom, have included a "community garden" being run by a group of local women, where organically-grown vegetables are produced both for their own consumption and for sale to the hotels and restaurants in and around Wakkerstroom.
Another interesting initiative which was initiated by BirdLife South Africa's Community Based Conservation Division through the support of WOW has been the Indalo Carving Project. Here, wood from non-native trees is being carved into sculptures of birds which are found around Wakkerstroom and to sell them to tourists visiting the area. As an example to others, the self-taught carver Mr. Muzi Makhubu has been able to establish an alternative livelihood in this way, which is not only contributing to local conservation by cutting down alien trees, but which also represents a healthy link between his income, the birdwatching tourism and the conservation of birds in Wakkerstroom.
BirdLife Visitor Centre
The WOW Project has also contributed to the renovation and re-development of the BirdLife Visitor Centre in Wakkerstroom. The BirdLife Visitor Centre, also known as the Wakkerstroom Wetland Reserve and Training Centre lies directly adjacent to the Wakkerstroom wetlands, which are known to birdwatchers around the world as one of South Africa's best options for birding. The centre now offers both accommodation and catering for tourists visiting the wetland area, basic conference and meeting services and also functions as a nature education centre for schools and provides work for a number of bird and nature guides from the surrounding rural area. The centre is now being successfully managed by Andre Steenkamp and Kristi Garland, who can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wings over Wetlands (WOW) is a joint effort between UNEP/GEF (The Global Environment Facility), Wetlands International, BirdLife International, the African-Eurasian Waterbirds Agreement (AEWA), The German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN), the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), the United Nations Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and a range of donors and local partners along the African-Eurasian Flyways.
For more information please download our latest WOW Project Newsletter: Flyway Conservation at Work - Across Africa and Eurasia or contact us directly.