A spectacular 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” – for its 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 29 July 2016.
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 our protected area network through ground-breaking 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.
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:
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 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.