BirdLife South Africa, in colaboration with other NGOs, continues to promote Biodiversity Stewardship as a valuable method to conserve biodiversity in the Free State Province. Many threatened bird species, such as large raptors and cranes, make extensive use of the private land to forage and breed. In order to ensure that these areas are sustained in the future, we need to work with private land owners to conserve the natural habitats that occur on their properties. One way to do this is through the declaration of Protected Environments. 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.
The proposed Upper Wilge Protected Environment is located in the eastern Free State, between the towns of Verkykerskop and Van Reenen within the Thabo Mofutsanyane District Municipality (DC19) and the Phumelela Local Municipality. The properties are also located in close proximity to the Ingula Nature Reserve. The Protected Environment comprises of 59 separate properties with a total extent of 32 216 hectares.The Landowners Association was established in 2018 and it is hoped that the Protected Environment will be declared in 2019.
This site is critically important for the following reasons:
- It has critically important biodiversity which will be secured through this initiative and will contribute to achieving provincial and national conservation targets;
- It is extremely important in terms of its location for protecting critically important wetlands and the associated freshwater biodiversity;
- It will contribute to Protected Area expansion targets at the provincial level and it is located in a site deemed as a national priority for protected area expansion;
- The site is located in close proximity to the Ingula Nature Reserve and will thus contribute towards the creation of an effective buffer zone, or zone of influence, for the reserve.