Conserving a biodiversity jewel in a KZN forestry estate

October 31, 2010

The Mt Gilboa Nature Reserve, situated in Mondi Shanduka's Mount Gilboa forestry estate in Karkloof, was proclaimed under the National Environment Management: Protected Areas Act (No 57 of 2003). This is the first forestry property to be proclaimed as a private nature reserve in KZN using the Biodiversity Stewardship mechanism.

Mondi's biodiversity reserve in KZN Mt Gilboa Reserve scenic
At the official opening of the nature reserve (left to right) Kevin McCann (Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife), Steve Germishuizen (Grasslands Project) and Doug Burden of Mondi Shanduka Newsprint. High biodiversity grasslands are protected in the recently proclaimed Gilboa Nature Reserve.

 

According to Doug Burden of Mondi Shanduka, the company operates extensive timber estates in the KZN Midlands, and the establishment of the nature reserve was a three-year process, starting with an environmental assessment in 2007.

He said that Mondi Shanduka established partnerships with key environmental organisations in its efforts to conserve threatened grasslands through biodiversity stewardship. These included Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the Grasslands Programme of the SA National Biodiversity Institute, the KZN Crane Foundation, WESSA, Threatened Grasslands Species Programme, and the KZN Conservancy Association.

Mt Gilboa is located at the headwaters of three of KZN's important river systems, namely the Umvoti River, the Myamvubu River that flows into the Mooi River, and the Mholweni River that flows into the Umngeni River. It includes extensive functional peat wetlands, which provide significant wetland functions and services such as water purification and flood attenuation, and has 283 hectares of 'critically endangered' midlands mistbelt grasslands, that is home to threatened species such as Wattled Crane, Samango monkey and the Oribi antelope.

Its linkage with the existing Karkloof Nature Reserve makes it a valuable addition to the conservation assets of KZN.

Steve Germishuizen of the Grasslands Programme said that grassland is the most threatened biome in the world, and the most poorly conserved, mainly because it has been viewed as expendable. He said grasslands cover 30% of the South African landscape, and that 30% of them have been irreversibly transformed.

"Only remnants of intact grasslands remain, of which Mt Gilboa is one," said Steve.

He said that forestry estates in South Africa have in excess of 400 000 ha of unplanted land in the grasslands biome. These areas have benefited from good land management and represent a golden opportunity for biodiversity conservation.

The Grasslands Programme team is developing a number of tools to help landowners identify biodiversity hotspots, and to manage their grasslands for fire. They are also working with FSC to improve the standards as they relate to grassland biodiversity.

Steve said his team had identified 37 key grasslands covering 40 000 ha in forestry estates in South Africa, that require conservation protection.

There are a number of real benefits flowing from the establishment of a proclaimed private nature reserve within a forestry estate, which go beyond the conservation benefits. The company can write off the cost of purchasing the property as a tax deduction over ten years; management costs can be written off for tax purposes; and the reserve is exempt from municipal property rates.

Meanwhile government has put its weight behind the grasslands conservation effort with the recent signing of the Grasslands Declaration, committing Government to the conservation of grasslands biodiversity, by the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Buyelwa Sonjica, and nine provincial MECs. It is an effort to collaborate in good faith to pursue biodiversity targets and objectives in securing and sustaining the ecosystem services of the grasslands biome.

Published in October 2010

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