The Nuwejaars River Nature Reserve
Annual Report 2021/22
Who we are
The Nuwejaars River Nature Reserve is the non-profit company that manages and protects the Nuwejaars Wetlands Special Management Area (NWSMA).
The NWSMA is
46 900 hectares, half of
which is conservation land.
We're close to Africa’s southernmost tip.
We protect the rivers, wetlands and threatened vegetation around the Nuwejaars Wetlands.
It includes 25 landowners and the town of Elim.
To protect and manage the Consolidated Core and Buffer Area of the NWSMA and its interface into one functioning ecosystem, forming an innovative system for conservation on private land, while providing environmental education, and sustainable socio-economic activity and tourism opportunities.
FROM THE CHAIR
We will look back on 2021 as a year of gratitude.
Unlike so many businesses and initiatives that never recovered from the consequences of the Covid pandemic, we emerged stronger, wiser and more dedicated than ever. Author Gregory Williams once said: “On the other side of a storm is the strength that comes from having navigated through it.” This is where we now find ourselves. We were forced to think out of the box as we looked for ways through the difficult times.
This resulted in a more streamlined operation which in turn led to substantial savings in overheads. Despite the strings being tightened, we still managed to achieve a lot. In this report, you will read about some of our activities – and about how nature has responded to this. We really have some fantastic news to share from the past year – so keep reading.
None of this would be possible without our incredible donors: WWF South Africa, the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust and the Overberg District Municipality. In addition, we received new support for invasive alien clearing from the National Lottery Commission. Towards the end of the financial year, we were extremely fortunate to receive multi-year funding from the Mapula Trust. Trusts and organisations only release funding to credible ventures, so we know our reputation as an organisation that works hard, and that can show the results of this work, is growing.
After two years, our new management plan was accepted by our members. We believe this document is an industry leader and aligns our work with global priority areas. We are grateful to Chris Martens of the Fynbos Trust and Keir Lynch from Bionerds.co.za for their help during this process.
Often we become tangled in the challenges of daily life, and as a result we forget to give more credit to the most obvious sources. In our case, that is our members. We are frequently asked how we manage to keep all 25 of our members committed. The truth is: it is no effort at all. Our members are supportive, and without them, this incredible initiative would not be possible.
In fact, our conservation venture is suddenly gaining national and international traction. More than ever there’s a realisation that conservation on private land is vital if we’re to reach our national conservation targets. We are at the forefront of alternative conservation measures, of showing how conservation can be undertaken in a non-traditional way, to benefit both nature and people. Our next priority remains to develop a model that is sustainable – and one that we believe can be replicated elsewhere.
We do this for one reason only: for our natural world. Our Nuwejaars wetlands are special. We owe it to our environment to do whatever we can to help. And we’re confident that in 2022, as our work continues, nature will continue to respond!
FROM THE Operations Manager
The management plan
In 2020, the Nuwejaars Wetlands SMA team started work to update our management plan. The process took more than a year and was led by Chris Martens of the Fynbos Trust, with support from Keir Lynch of Bionerds.co.za, funded by the Fynbos Trust. The new plan was adopted by our members in August 2021 and was put into effect in March 2022.
In this annual report, we provide feedback based on the six objectives identified in the new management plan. The Fynbos Trust continues to provide support to the team to implement our conservation activities.
The projects and activities included here are implemented with sincere thanks to our donors and partners. We work with incredible donors such as WWF South Africa, the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust, the Mapula Trust, the National Lotteries Commission, the Fynbos Trust and of course the contributions from our members. We are incredibly grateful for the support – which allows us to create green employment for these small businesses, while restoring and rehabilitating our special natural world.
To ensure the NWSMA and our biodiversity are protected forever
Biodiversity protected forever
Restrictions on ownership of all properties within the NWSMA are registered against title deeds in favour of conservation as set out in our Constitution in perpetuity. This means that even if ownership changes, the restrictions remain in place and future owners need to adhere to our conservation principles.
In the past year, we were thrilled to welcome new members to the NWSMA. Zoetendal Wine Farm was sold to Mulalo Colin Tshivhase and Martin van Wijngaarden. These new members have already shown their commitment to these principles. They are now the proud owners of a valuable piece of the Nuwejaars River, and a conservation corridor where wildlife abounds.
A new conservation mechanism
There’s a global drive to recognise non-traditional conservation structures, like Special Management Areas or Landowner Associations. Area-based conservation efforts are not recognised as formal Protected Areas and the result is that South Africa is under reporting and falling short of its national and international conservation targets. BirdLife South Africa is now investigating other conservation mechanisms, and the NWSMA is being used as a pioneering opportunity to test these mechanisms, and to show just how valuable they are. The NRNR is now working closely with BirdLife South Africa to investigate alternative mechanisms and statuses, to recognise our model officially. See more.
To manage, maintain and improve the ecological integrity of the NWSMA as a functioning ecosystem
Expanding habitats for birds
The Nuwejaars Wetlands system is one of the largest wetlands systems in South Africa – connecting a series of rivers, wetlands and lakes to each other, and ultimately reaching the Heuningnes catchment, a Ramsar site of international importance. It’s made up of threatened habitats, with immense diversity found within these, making this area very valuable to conserve.
In past decades, the rivers and wetlands here became degraded, with invasive alien plants taking over riparian areas. This also impacted on the biodiversity, with species disappearing because of the uninhabitable environment.
Four years ago, the NRNR partnered with WWF South Africa to change this. The goal was to restore and rehabilitate the wetlands, so that those birds that rely on our functioning ecosystems would return to where they belong, as well as mammals, amphibians and all other organisms that occur here.
In the past year, this project once again enjoyed huge successes: rehabilitation activities were undertaken along a 7.5km stretch of the Nuwejaars River, while those gains made in previous years were maintained along 7.6kms. In total in the WWF South Africa project, more than 440 hectares have been cleared of mostly mature alien trees, reducing channel choking. Riparian edges are being rehabilitated with indigenous vegetation planted and infrastructure is halting further degradation. Across the NWSMA, around 1 850 hectares have been cleared.
Through the Elizabeth Harding Bequest funding, with additional support from the Overberg District Municipality, a small business, led by the hard-working and talented Gerty Holtzhausen, with nine team members, receive permanent employment in the NWSMA.
It’s one thing to clear the wetlands, but these areas also need to be given time to recover. Livestock in particular could affect the recovery of the wetlands. So to give the newly sprouting indigenous vegetation enough time to recover, and to prevent local extinctions, a 2km biodiversity-permeable fence was developed. This keeps livestock out of sensitive areas in the project site.
Restoring Critically Endangered habitats
Given the biodiversity value of our habitats, it’s imperative to restore them, to provide the ecosystem services they are meant to offer to wildlife and to people. To achieve this, we remove invasive plants on these habitats.
But first we needed to know where all the alien species are, and where the biggest threats are. So with the help of Bionerds.co.za, we developed and digitised alien clearing unit boundaries on our maps across the NWSMA. During the past year, around 1 850 hectares of priority invasive species clearing took place, funded by WWF South Africa, the Overberg District Municipality, the National Lotteries Commission (NLC) and through the ABI Alien Clearing Project (funded by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment). Our landowner members also co-funded administrative costs and herbicide costs.
Take a look at just how important the NWSMA is:
The NWSMA is home to Critically Endangered Agulhas Limestone Fynbos, Agulhas Sand Fynbos and Central Rûens Shale Renosterveld. Much of the remaining Endangered Elim Ferricrete Fynbos left in the world is found in the NWSMA, as well as sections of the beautiful, and previously listed as Critically Endangered Overberg Sandstone Fynbos.
Take a look at this graph, which shows the percentage of fynbos habitat remaining in South Africa, and therefore globally, that is found in the boundaries of the NWSMA.
- Agulhas Sand (CR). 3773ha in NWSMA of a total of 8050ha left in South Africa. 47% 47%
- Agulhas Limestone (CR) 3258ha in NWSMA of a total of 18560ha left in South Africa. 18% 18%
- Elim Ferricrete (EN) 7869ha in NWSMA of a total of 19400ha left in South Africa. 41% 41%
- Central Rûens (CR) 1621ha in NWSMA of a total of 18090ha left in South Africa. 9% 9%
Identifying emerging threats
During the year, our team came across a new potential invader: a Wattle species called Australian Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon). Working with our members, the Elim Overseers Council, our maintenance team, led by Denver Engel, removed the species before they set seed and became an even bigger threat.
Managing our game as part of our ecosystem
The NWSMA is home to Rau Quagga that form part of the Rau Quagga Breeding Project. Over the past few years, Freddy has been one of the top stallions in the project, with colours closely resembling the original Quagga which became extinct in the 1800s. In the past year, a Rau Quagga shuffle took place, with new individuals brought to our region, and some of our older individuals given new homes. Following the shuffle, there were 41 individuals on the NWSMA in total: 21 in the Southern game camp, two at Hazevlakte, 10 at Kosierskraal and eight at Helderfontein.
The NRNR adopted 19 buffalo from the Melozhori Private Nature Reserve, just outside of Barrydale. After their quarantine and testing, they were released into the game area late in 2021. Since then five new calves were born, taking our total buffalo numbers to 41.
Bontebok are an important NWSMA flagship species, given their historical significance to our region, as well as their once very endangered status. The NWSMA has a stable population, with two lambs born, but with two ewes lost following lambing difficulties. As a result, we currently have 23 bontebok in total in three herds across the NWSMA. Monitoring their numbers remains a priority.
To identify, understand and protect species of special concern in the NWSMA
A new Fynbos species discovered: The Nuwejaars Lily
A new Fynbos species, first seen on the NWSMA in 2019, was found again at the start of 2022. Our conservation team, with the assistance of well-known horticulturist Geoff Nichols, took samples and sent it to the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), facilitated by the Botanical Society of South Africa. When three more populations of the plant were found, Cyrtanthus expert Dr Dee Snijman visited the area. A few short months later, she confirmed that this was indeed a species new to science, and named it Cyrtanthus novus-annus (or Nuwejaars), in honour of the conservation work taking place here. Read the full story here
A remarkable discovery: Micro Frog
During the course of a monitoring outing along the Nuwejaars River and wetlands, we had an incredible encounter: a new subpopulation of the Critically Endangered Micro Frog (Microbatrachella capensis) was discovered here. Up to then, only four known subpopulations of the tiny frog had been documented. If you combine the total area that this amphibian species occupies in the world, it amounts to just 7km². Further surveys will be undertaken in the 2022 breeding season. Here’s what happened
Monitoring leopards in the NWSMA
The NRNR partnered with the Cape Leopard Trust (CLT) in their Tale of Two Leopards project, which focused on two iconic species in the Overberg region – the leopard and the Western leopard toad. Through this project, the CLT aimed to better understand the presence and threats to leopards in the Overberg, which included a large-scale camera trap project. Forty camera traps were installed in the NWSMA and the Conservation Managers dedicated much of their time to collect the data and service the cameras over the six-month project period.
While the final results of the leopard monitoring efforts will be released in 2022, here are some of the incredible photos of leopards captured across 12 separate sites showing the importance of our conservation corridors to wildlife.
New sightings and species in our NWSMA
In the past year, we recorded Great Egret, Knob-billed Duck and White-backed Duck for the first time in our wetlands. Our Conservation Manager, Eugéne Hahndiek also found the very rare and relatively unknown fynbos species, Erica flavicoma. Little is known about this species, and its Red Listing is ‘data deficient’.
Working with CREW and iNaturalist
The Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW) team visited the NWSMA during the year to investigate threatened plant species’ presence across our region. The data collected was captured on the iNaturalist Protea project, which aims to map the current distribution of Proteaceae species in the Agulhas Plain, with a particular interest in sites where invasive alien plant species are present.
Members of CREW also facilitated an iNaturalist training workshop with our Conservation Managers and helped to further develop our Nuwejaars project site on iNat, simply named: the Nuwejaars Wetlands Special Management Area. Already more than 7 000 observations have been logged on the project to date, with 1 266 species identified in our boundaries by 162 observers. Join the project here
Capturing the changes post-rehabilitation
Our conservation team undertake vegetation assessments in our NWSMA to capture changes in biodiversity and ecosystem functioning after the rehabilitation activities have taken place. And we had some help from local botanists Rebecca Dames and Sean Privett of the Grootbos Foundation to survey the vegetation, measuring the cover abundance of plants species in four control blocks. We surveyed the sites every six months – with very interesting results.
We found that the blocks with the highest presence of invasive species had the lowest overall diversity. This clearly shows the link between alien species which leads to a decrease in other biodiversity. One block was 85% covered in Port Jackson (Acacia saligna). But once the clearing activities had taken place, we saw in our next survey that species diversity and coverage increased by more than 50%. This shows that the indigenous soil seed banks are still present and they facilitate the natural recovery of indigenous fynbos vegetation once aliens are removed.
How our bird populations are recovering
We also undertake quarterly fixed radius bird counts at each control block to collect data on the bird species richness and abundance across the wetlands and fynbos. We categorised the birds into different communities based on their habitat and feeding guilds which we use to investigate shifts in the birding community composition as the vegetation cover changes.
Preliminary results from the first nine months show a total of 74 bird species identified during the counts. Of these 74 species, 27 were identified as common and prefer woodland (26%) and fynbos (30%) habitat over wetland habitat. The most dominant and abundant species was the Ring-necked Dove, which coincidently feeds on Acacia species seeds, and is commonly found in Acacia thickets (specifically A. saligna) in the Western Cape.
The table (top right) shows the bird community habitat preference of the most prevalent bird species found in the fixed radius counts between March 2021 and December 2021.
Counting our wetlands birds
We carry out bi-annual Coordinated Water Avian Counts (CWAC) at three lakes (or vleis) that form part of our wetland system to monitor the bird population trends. These are also captured on the CWAC database. The counts started in March 2018 before conservation mitigation measures were implemented in these three sites. An analysis of the trend data shows that while seasonal changes do play a role on the total species richness and abundance presence throughout the year, there appears to be an overall increase in count data in the wetlands in the last four years where over 400 ha of alien clearing has taken place.
Finding threatened carnivorous plants
Hendré Barnard (Stellenbosch University student studying ecology) visited the NWSMA to collect small amounts of seed and leaf material (for cloning) from the carnivorous genus Drosera. He collected Drosera cistiflora and Drosera trinervia. He was looking at introducing new forms into cultivation and collect seeds for seedbanking for future research.
To promote and manage compatible uses of the NWSMA to support sustainability and create employment
Responsible Tourism – Our guided tours
Following the terrible year for tourism in 2020, as a result of the Covid pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, the tourism industry started opening again in 2021. Here at the Nuwejaars, we also benefited from this, as our tours opened with minimal restrictions, running from September 2021 to April 2022. Compared to the previous year, the income from our Wildlife Guided Tours more than doubled, with 275 people joining us to experience our wetlands and wildlife.
Our specialised botanical tour
We also hosted a Botanical Tour with horticulturist Geoff Nichols on World Biodiversity Day in May 2021. The tour was sold out, and we enjoyed meeting a range of interested people, from keen botanists, to those who were simply keen to get to know the area better. Geoff introduced the group to all the special species in our region, such as the Leucadendron elimense subsp elimense, Leucadendron modestum, Leucospermum heterophyllum and many more.
Building our sustainability through business development
Given the alien clearing efforts taking place across the NWSMA, there is now considerable biomass available from the chopped alien trees. As the transport costs to get coal down from northern South Africa to our region rises, biomass has become an increasingly attractive option for many industries here. That’s why this has formed the backbone of our efforts to support our sustainability and reduce dependence on donor funding in the long term.
Here’s what we’ve done to date:
- The NRNR is working with P & B Lime Works in Bredasdorp. This lime mine is investigating the opportunity to transition from coal-burning furnaces for their lime kilns to a gasification process, fuelled by wood chips. We have been assisting P & B Lime Works in their research, and we have been granted preferred supplier status. The lime mine believes it will complete the transition within the next 18 months and will have a large biomass requirement when this is ready to go.
- We’ve undertaken tests to determine how many tons of wood chips we could process in a day, and what the daily running costs of such an operation would be. This has been instrumental in guiding us to understand the potential price for wood chips to ensure the business is viable. In fact, it has shown that for alien biomass to be viable as a commodity, the end user needs to be within a 50km radius of the source, otherwise the cost of transport makes the venture unsustainable.
- We are investigating an opportunity to supply wood chips for the manufacture of Arborlite blocks – a type of wood concrete that could reduce the costs of building without impacting on the quality of the building.
- With the help of NRNR member Pieter Albertyn and Russell Hackney, we have been experimenting with finely chipped Port Jackson, mixed with molasses and a few other supplements as animal feed. Sheep have taken to the shredded leaves. However, our current chipper cannot be set fine enough, so most of the wood chips are too course to be eaten. We are now looking at alternatives to create wood chips that are small enough to be eaten.
- We have applied for funding for a hammermill and a pellet-extruding machine. This will allow us, by adding kaolin to produce animal feed in the form of bagged pellets.
Creating employment in our region
In the course of the past year, the NRNR has created 43 job opportunities within our various projects and through our funding support. An Ecosystem Services team consisting of four people, led by Denver Engel, is funded by the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust. This team is instrumental in supporting the ongoing operations in our NWSMA. Because we cover such a vast area, there is constant need to maintain, improve and restore our natural areas. As such, we are highly dependent on Denver and his team, and are incredible grateful to our donors for their support.
Through the WWF South Africa project, supported by the Overberg District Municipality, we employ a small business, led by Gerty Holtzhausen, to restore and rehabilitate our wetlands. In the past financial year, we also received funding from the National Lotteries Commission (NLC) which was used to employ a team of clearers, led by James Mavusa. This project concludes in September 2022. Funding support also allowed us to bring in additional alien clearing support, led by the incredible Martina Apollis of Elim. Martina has a wealth of experience as a small business leader – having worked with the likes of the South African National Biodiversity Institute in the past.
The NRNR also employs four permanent staff: two Conservation Managers, our Operations Manager and a Finance and Admin Manager.
Bringing new skills to our teams
Eight NRNR staff members attended and completed an NQF Level 3 “Applied Supervisory Management Principles” training course in January 2022, funded by the NLC. The trainees fared exceptionally well and received AGRISETA certificates of competency. The outputs of the course included:
- Defining and understanding the role of management in an organisation
- Applying the operational processes of planning, organising, leading and controlling in a supervisory management role
- Fulfilling the role of supervisor and understanding the challenges faced in this position.
Opportunities for volunteers and interns
We offer volunteers and interns the opportunity to gain more practical experience in a working conservation environment.
Blayne van der Spuy was interested in conservation. He joined us for more than a year, where he assisted with monitoring, especially the Quagga and Bontebok. He also hosted Wildlife Guided Tours and provided wonderful conservation content for our website and social media pages. Blayne left the NRNR to further his conservation studies.
Janlu Nieuwoudt was a conservation student who also joined the NRNR team to gain more practical experience.
To promote a best practice sustainable agriculture model
The NWSMA is a unique conservation area: while we are home to critically threatened vegetation, wetlands and wildlife, half of the NWSMA is made up of productive agricultural lands.
The role of agriculture in our NWSMA
The NRNR is driven by the farmers and landowners who are members of the NWSMA, and it was through their drive and innovation that the NRNR was born more than a decade ago.
That’s why we simply can’t ignore the role of agriculture – and the need for conservation and agriculture to work together, to benefit all. That’s also the model that has been introduced and is being tested in the NWSMA: a model where farmers employ teams of people to improve the natural areas through restoration and rehabilitation projects, while continuing their sustainable farming operations.
Our management plan: The way forward
In the NWSMA management plan, we set out to:
- To protect the integrity of the remaining parcels of natural vegetation and biodiversity in the areas adjacent to agriculture
- And engender the principles of environmentally sustainable and efficient agriculture amongst all our members.
It’s important to remember that wildlife also makes use of these multi-use landscapes. Animals such as the Endangered Black Harrier, Vulnerable Blue Crane and Southern Black Korhaan, and Vulnerable Rhebok are examples of wildlife that make use of both. Smaller scarce species such as the Parrot-beaked Tortoise, African Wildcat and Cape Fox also seek suitable areas to forage and mate across the landscape.
Even our newly discovered fynbos species, Cyrtanthus novus-annus, occurs in two small patches of transition land. As such, agricultural and conservation land are part of the biodiversity system, and we should manage the area as a whole, so that our ecosystem processes can function as they should.
To promote the work of the NWSMA and our environment
Sharing our message with the world
There’s considerable conservation work taking place across the NWSMA, supported by incredible donors. It’s therefore vital for us to share this work, using our platforms and working with our media partners.
Here are some of our activities and highlights:
- We communicate with our members via a monthly communication, to ensure they’re informed of all the activities
- We launched a public newsletter in May 2021, sharing our news with interested parties who are keen to know more and get involved. You can sign up here.
- News of the discovery of the Micro Frog was widely published, with wonderful support from Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust and WWF South Africa
- The discovery of a new Fynbos species was also well publicised in the 2022 financial year, with additional support from the Mapula Trust
- We were asked to present at the Leadership for Conservation in Africa webinar. Here’s Ross and Eugéne’s presentation.
- We work with partners such as WWF South Africa, who frequently share our news on their platforms and support our media campaigns. Other partners include CREW and the Cape Leopard Trust
- We were involved in the BirdLife South Africa Bird Fair, with birding expert Dr Wim de Klerk showcasing our region to birders.
- Sunday Times
- Mail & Guardian
- Radio France International
- Cape Town etc.
- Farmer’s Weekly
- RSG – interview on Spektrum with Suzanne Paxton
- Good Things Guy
- ODM, CAM & Overstrand Municipality
- Agulhas National Park eBulletin
- Hermanus Times
- Radio 786
- Jack Journal
- SABC2 – Voetspore series
Reaching the children of our region
As part of our Environmental Education programme, we hosted the entire Elim Primary School at our wetlands over the course of a week. The programme was linked to the discovery of the Micro Frog in our wetlands, and was funded by the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust and NLC.
During the week, around 200 children in Grades 1 to 5 were transported to our wetlands, and enjoyed a morning receiving age-appropriate lessons, hosted by local Environmental Educator Gretha Engelbrecht. The programme focused on teaching the children the role that wetlands play, their filtration function, and how they provide habitat to a plethora of species, including the newly discovered Micro Frog. The visit was so successful, with such positive feedback, that it will be replicated in 2022. See more.
What’s coming up?
There’s a new buzzword in the world of conservation: it’s Other Effective Area-Based Conservation Measures (or OECMs). It’s a new conservation structure that recognises the work that’s taking place outside the formal Protected Area Network.
The development and implementation of this OECM status is being driven by BirdLife South Africa. And following the go ahead from our members, the NRNR is now being put forward as a model to test these mechanisms. While this process is still in its early stages, we’re thrilled to work alongside BirdLife South Africa, as we showcase non-traditional conservation – with huge benefits to the environment and to people. Stay tuned for more on this!
Financial statements for year ended
28 February 2022
The accompanying summary financial statements, which comprise the summary statement of comprehensive income and statement of financial position for the year ended 28 February 2022, were derived from the audited annual financial statements of the Nuwejaars River Nature Reserve NPC for the year then ended. We expressed a modified audit opinion on those annual financial statements which have been explained in the applicable audit report.
Management’s Responsibility for the Summary Annual Financial Statements
Management is responsible for the preparation of the summary of the audited annual financial statements.
We have been requested to judge whether the summary financial statements are consistent with the audited annual financial statements. The summary financial statements were derived from the audited annual financial statements of the Nuwejaars River Nature Reserve NPC for the year ended 28 February 2022 by management and appear consistent.
BVA Overberg Incorporated