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The Ingula Partnership

Reflections Braamhoek 2013-11-08 DuToitMalherbeBraamhoek Dam (Photo: Du Toit Malherbe)

In 2003 the Ingula Partnership was established between Eskom, BirdLife South Africa and the Middelpunt Wetland Trust with a common conservation objective of managing the Ingula Pumped Storage Scheme as a sustainable conservation site. It is a classic example of how an industrial undertaking can be integrated within a conservation area and will hopefully provide a model for future conservation initiatives. Situated on the watershed between the Orange River in the eastern Free State and the Tugela River in KwaZulu Natal, Ingula and its surrounding nature reserve provides a core conservation area and act as a catalyst to encourage conservation-based management principles for surrounding landowners and for socio-economic development for local communities.

The Ingula Pumped Storage Scheme

The Ingula Pumped Storage Scheme was initiated by Eskom in order to supplement the national power grid during peak times. The Bedford and Braamhoek dams are connected by underground waterways passing through a subterranean powerhouse with four generators. To generate electricity during times of peak demand, water is released from Bedford Dam which is situated in the upper site and allowed to pass through the turbines into the Braamhoek Dam situated in the lower site. Situated close to the Van Reenen’s Pass, on the provincial border between the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal, the scheme spans the escarpment of the Little Drakensberg where high-altitude wetlands provide ideal habitat for, amongst others, the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail.

The environmental impact assessment approved the scheme, with the ROD (Record of Decision) subject to the following conditions:

  1. Eskom was to enter into a partnership agreement with a conservation NGO to ensure that the impacts were properly managed;
  2. The land obtained for the project was to be turned into a reserve on completion;
  3. All the erosion problems on the land were to be rehabilitated;
  4. All exotic fauna and flora were to be removed.

When the scheme was originally proposed, BirdLife South Africa objected because it was feared that the White-winged Flufftail habitat at this site would be forever lost. However, in ensuing negotiations with Eskom, it became evident that more could be achieved if Eskom and BirdLife South Africa were to work together on the environmental aspects of the project.

Partnership for Conservation

The Ingula Partnership, a three-way partnership between Eskom, BirdLife South Africa and Middelpunt Wetland Trust celebrated its tenth anniversary in May 2014.

The purpose of the partnership is

  1. To ensure integration of environmental factors into the planning and implementation phases of the project;
  2. To investigate the value of social, economic and environmental values of the area to users, and to measure the impact of the project on users;
  3. To effectively monitor and manage environmental impacts relevant to the partnership at the site, before, during and post construction.
  4. To initiate and monitor appropriate environmental projects.

Eskom has committed to the funding of projects and studies identified and approved by the Ingula Partnership steering committee for the past ten years. The Ingula Partnership steering committee is made up of primary members representing Eskom,  BirdLife South Africa (Mark Anderson and Hanneline Smit-Robinson), and the Middelpunt Wetland Trust (Malcolm Drummond). It was established to monitor and minimise the environmental impacts throughout the project construction and beyond.

Through monitoring work done by BirdLife South Africa's on-site manager, Robin Colyn, and by his predecessor, David Maphisa, as well as various citizen scientist initiatives, over 306 bird species have been recorded at Ingula. These include two Critically Endangered species, the Wattled Crane and White-winged Flufftail, as well as the elusive and Endangered Rudd's Lark. A number of threatened bird species have also been observed on site, including the Southern Bald Ibis, Grey Crowned Crane, Blue Crane, Cape Vulture, Secretarybird and White-bellied Korhaan. With the exception of the White-winged Flufftail, breeding records exist on site for all the above-mentioned species. Through David's participation in national atlasing projects, a very impressive list of reptiles, butterflies and plants also now exist for Ingula.

The upper Bedford wetlands are protected on the Ingula property as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA), Bedford/Chatsworth IBA 043 (Marnewick et al, 2015), providing ideal habitat for the White-winged Flufftail, with annual surveys undertaken to monitor the species’ presence. A management plan that allows Eskom to follow best practice principles in preventing collisions and electrocutions is being developed and the powerlines within and around the Ingula site are surveyed on a quarterly basis to assess for collision and electrocution mortalities. All powerline related mortalities are kept in a central database and submitted to the Wildlife Energy Programme – Endangered Wildlife Trust (WEP-EWT). All lines within the property have been fitted with bird guard devices.

Species Update

A camera trap study with the aim of identifying medium to large mammal species and other bird species was initiated in 2014. A total of 27 mammalia species including, Brown Hyena, Oribi and Striped Polecat were identified using the amera trap footage.

Wattled Crane (Bugeranus carunculatus)

Given that less than 300 breeding pairs of Wattled Crane are left in the wild in South Africa, Ingula is proud to have two breeding pairs on site, as well as six individuals that are regularly seen flying over the lower site area. One of the nesting pairs lost an egg at the Upper Bedford wetland in May 2014, probably to the resident crows in the area. Observations peak during the breeding season between April and September and taper off in summer as individuals often forage outside of the Ingula boundary.

In order to effectively conserve and manage this species at Ingula, Robin Colyn compiled and implemented a Species Action Plan in March 2015. The SAP addressed the ecology of the species, national and local threats, modelled optimal breeding and foraging habitat on-site at Ingula, potential territory size of breeding pairs at Ingula, as well as actions required in order to conserve the species within Ingula. Actions and recommendations were stated and prioritised according to the respective potential severity. Additionally, time-frames and resource needs per action were also addressed.

White-bellied Korhaan (Eupodotis senegalensis)

White-bellied Korhaan are regularly observed on both the lower and upper grassland habitat types within Ingula. Observations on the lower site often yield a pair and further monitoring are being conducted to determine if breeding attempts are being initiated. Furthermore, during the burning of winter firebreaks, up to five individuals have been observed utilizing recently burnt grassland.

Yellow-breasted Pipit (Anthus chloris)

Robin Colyn initiated a priority bird breeding assessment in September 2014, which included the Vulnerable Yellow-breasted Pipit. Between November 2014 and February 2015, 23 breeding pairs were observed and mapped across the high-altitude grassland habitat present within Ingula. Additionally, a Species Action Plan for this Species was compiled in June 2015 and is due for implementation in early 2016. The plan highlighted the ecological constraints an requirements of the species, national and local threats, as well as modelled optimal breeding habits on-site within Ingula. Monitoring, management and/or research actions and recommendations were stated and prioritised within an action matrix, which as part of the reserve management plan will assist in the ongoing conservation of this species at Ingula.

Secretarybird (Sagittarius serpentarius) 

Two pairs and between one and three juvenile/immature birds are regularly seen throughout grassland habitat within Ingula. One pair is a known resident breeding pair, having utilised a nest structure in the Bedford area of Ingula for five consecutive years. 

In October 2015,a sposorship by Zlin Zoo in the Czech Republic allowed us to commence  a camera trap study at the nest site at Ingula to gain further understanding regarding pair facilitation during incubation, prey utilization and breeding/feldging success.

BirdLife South Africa is currently tracking a number of Secretarybirds in an effort to understand their habits and post-natal dispersal. For more information about this project, please click here.

White-winged Flufftail (Sarothrura ayresi) 

During December 2012 the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail was sighted for the first time in the Bedford Wetland at Ingula’s upper site. Eskom has committed itself to be the Species Champion of the White-winged Flufftail under BirdLife International’s Preventing Extinctions Programme. For more information on BirdLife South Africa’s efforts to save this Critically Endangered species, please click here.

Southern Bald Ibis (Geronticus calvus)Artificial nesting site for Southern Bald Ibis at Ingula

The Vulnerable Southern Bald Ibis is frequently seen in the conservation area. There are around 12 breeding pairs and six immature individuals that often roost within the area. A special programme is currently underway to relocate them from their historic nesting ledges which will be lost due to the construction of the upper dam. An artificial nesting ledge was constructed in 2010 in the hope of providing them with an alternative breeding site following the loss of the historical breeding site. Significantly, during the 2015 breeding season six nest sites have been identified within the artificial breeding site. Further monitoring will continue to determine the breeding success at this new breeding site.

A long-term study of the distribution, numbers, survival and breeding success of the endemic Southern Bald Ibis across its distribution in South Africa is currently being undertaken by Robin Colyn. The main outcome of the study will be a management plan for the Southern Bald Ibis. Data are currently analysed and peer-reviewed scientific articles are being prepared. Additionally, Robin Colyn is currently conducting habitat stability analysis for this species across its range in southern Africa.

Eskom is the Species Champion of the Southern Bald Ibis under BirdLife International’s Preventing Extinctions Programme.

 Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus)

The Martial Eagle was observed numerous times between 2010 and 2013. Further monitoring allowed us to identify a resident breeding pair and nest site in the escarpment forest habitat witin Ingula.The 2014 breeding season was successful and produced one chick.

IMG 6828 Martial Eagle.Anton Myburgh.Top SideRock pools 1 Pair at nest 5 Resident Wattled crane breeding pair Ingula COlyn  Eggs in nests at the artificial nestsing site 1 Breeding Male Ingula Colyn 1

Other bird species at Ingula

bush Blackcap by lemon dove at Ingula African Crake Cape longclaw

People at Ingula

Robin Colyn

Robin Colyn joined the BirdLife South Africa team as the on-site manager at Ingula in 2014 and is largely responsible for providing scientific input into and coordinating ecological monitoring and research initiatives at Ingula. Species Action Plans (SAP) for a number of threatened species have been compiled, including Yellow-breasted Pipit and Wattled Crane. As part of the Southern Bald Ibis Species Champion Programme, Robin annually assesses breeding colonies within the Eastern Free State to determine breeding and/or fledging success, implements and evaluates a Southern Bald Ibis tracking initiative and coordinates species-specific environmental education.

David Maphisa

David Maphisa was the former on-site manager at Ingula, and was succeeded by Robin Colyn in 2014. David grew up as a herd boy in Lesotho, and has a MSc degree from the University of Cape Town on the biology of Rudd’s Lark (Heteromirafra ruddi) and Botha’s Lark (Spizocorys fringillaris). He has been monitoring changes in the bird community at Ingula since construction commenced eight years ago. In December 2015 he was awarded his PhD in Statistical Science from the University of Cape Town, with a main focus on the development of an adaptive management tool for high-altitude grasslands in South Africa. He was supervised by Dr Res Altwegg (Specialist Scientist, SANBI, and a statistics expert), Prof. Les Underhill (Statistician, Animal Demography Unit, University of Cape Town) and Dr Hanneline Smit-Robinson (BirdLife South Africa).

Sakhile Mthalane

Sakhile Wiseman Mthalane has assisted the BirdLife South Africa Ingula Project Manager since 2011. Sakhile has been trained by David Maphisa in bird identification. He has been working with the Ingula conservation team on site, assisting with avifaunal monitoring, fencing patrols and atlasing species on the lower and upper sites. He has also taken up the role as a bird guide for groups visiting Ingula. His contribution is invaluable, and he has added significant value to the programme. With his assistance the poaching problem is kept under control, and he keeps the birding records up to date.

The Ingula Nature Reserve

Frikkie Hitge Mount Nelson early morning sunlight April 2013Mount Nelson (Photo: Frikkie Hitge)

Grasslands are the least conserved habitat (biome) in South Africa. The conservation of the Ingula area will go some way towards increasing grassland areas under protection. The data gathered at Ingula will also contribute towards the conservation of other similar high-altitude grassland habitats in South Africa and beyond. The Biodiversity Assessment, completed by the Ingula Stewardship Review Panel, for the Ingula property was submitted to the Department of Environmental Affairs for the legal protection and proclamation of this 12,000ha habitat as a Nature Reserve. The proclamation is likely to be completed by the end of 2016. Ingula will be the country’s first privately owned National Nature Reserve, spanning the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State. The Ingula Partnership has been involved and influential in the development of the Environmental Management Plan for the Nature Reserve. The Nature Reserve status was obtained because the site protects a high number of highly threatened (Critically Endangered) species. These include White-winged Flufftail, Wattled Crane and Bearded Vulture; the presence of these species warrants the high conservation value and high sensitivity. Negotiations with surrounding landowners could lead to additional land being secured as a protected environment. 

Future work 2014 – 2019:

Eskom is the principal sponsor of the work undertaken by BirdLife South Africa through the Ingula Partnership. In April 2014 Eskom renewed the contract with BirdLife South Africa (and Middelpunt Wetland Trust) for the next five year period.

Future BirdLife South Africa focus areas, as part of the Ingula Partnership objectives, will be divided into:

  1. Avifaunal monitoring, research and conservation which will include avifaunal surveys and data collection on site and BirdLife South Africa’s duties as part of the Ingula reserve management plan.
  2. Scientific input and co-ordination of on-site ecological activities through the BirdLife South Africa Ingula Project Manager This will include the development of avifaunal species action plans for priority bird species on site.
  3. Conservation commitment through community involvement.
  4. Strategic and scientific input will be provided into avifaunal and ecological conservation decisions relating to Ingula and species specific conservation.

Fossils at Ingula

dicynodon skull
Dicynodon skull

In 2009 a construction worker found some strange-looking “rocks” at Ingula. A number of significant fossils were subsequently uncovered, slowly revealing an entire ecosystem which existed more than 255 million years ago. The finds included, amongst others, Dicynodon lacertipceps, a plant-eating, mammal-like reptile of the Permian period, two gorgonopsians (predators of the time), as well as plant fossils of the Glossopteris family. The fossils will be returned to be exhibited at the Ingula visitors centre once analysis is complete. 

For more information on the fossil finds at Ingula, please download the following fact sheet.

 


For more information on The Ingula Partnership please contact Robin Colyn at +27 (76) 833 8454 or robin.colyn@birdlife.org.za.

 Ingula partnership logo

The Ingula Partnership

In 2003 the Ingula Partnership was established between Eskom, BirdLife South Africa and the Middelpunt Wetland Trust with a common conservation objective of managing the Ingula Pumped Storage Scheme as a sustainable conservation site. It is a classic example of how an industrial undertaking can be integrated within a conservation area and will hopefully provide a model for future conservation initiatives. Situated over the escarpment between the eastern Free State and KwaZulu-Natal, Ingula and its surrounding nature reserve provides a core conservation area and act as a catalyst to encourage conservation-based management principles for surrounding landowners and for socio-economic development for local communities.

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