The Nuwejaars River Nature Reserve

Annual Report 2022/23



Who we are

The Nuwejaars River Nature Reserve is the non-profit company that manages and protects the Nuwejaars Wetlands Special Management Area (NWSMA).

We're close to Africa’s southernmost tip.

 The NWSMA is
46 900 hectares, half of
which is conservation land.

It includes 27 landowners and the town of Elim.

We protect the rivers, wetlands and threatened vegetation around the Nuwejaars Wetlands.


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.


Given our unconventional model, making our mark in the conservation world is not easy.

Staying buoyant financially in these times is proving to be even harder. As with so many non-profit organisations in these difficult times, our path of progress is littered with the carcasses of disappointment and failures, but our commitment has never wavered. The acid test for us has not been whether we will avoid failure because failure is often a given when your role is to test and pilot novel ideas. Rather, it is not allowing these challenges to harden us into inaction. And to move forward with all our wonderful donors, partners and members.


This quote by Crypto Seneca sums us up: “Almost everything is outside of your control. You may take all the right actions and fail. You may take no action and win. All you can do is put yourself in the position to win. Be consistent. Patience will eventually get luck on your side.”

Patience and persistence did indeed pay off in 2022. We were able to secure funding from the Mapula Trust. At the same time, our National Lottery Commission project to provide jobs to small businesses in restoration concluded in the year. The Table Mountain Fund is also providing support, helping us identify species of conservation concern, threats to natural fynbos and restore degraded terrestrial habits.

Potentially exciting news is that we were successful in obtaining a grant from the International Climate Initiative (IKI), a fund implemented by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment. This potential project is dependent on us finding ways to use alien biomass as either a green fuel or to produce biochar. To this end, we are engaging potential partners. If successful, this could be a game changer for the NRNR, as for the first time, it will allow us to generate a sustainable income.

We are so grateful to WWF South Africa and the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust (HHCT) for their incredible, ongoing support. We can’t thank these two funders enough. The Overberg District Municipality once again co-funded our alien vegetation clearing programme. These contributions over the years have had huge positive impacts on the environment and the livelihoods of many people who are employed by the respective projects. It is always a pleasure working with organisations that share our values.

Our thanks go out to all the NRNR staff and members for their contributions made towards furthering this very worthwhile initiative – including our new staff member, Liza Luyt, who joined as our Finance Manager. Our hope is that this model can be replicated in other areas, thus making a real contribution towards biodiversity conservation in our country, and the world.

Dirk Human
Chair: NRNR

FROM THE Operations Manager



Objective 1

To ensure the NWSMA and our biodiversity are protected forever

Trialing a new conservation solution

There’s a renewed focus globally towards a nature-positive world. World leaders have committed to protecting 30% of the planet by 2030 – known as ‘30×30’. But this is no easy task, and it means that non-traditional conservation areas – those outside the formal protected areas – are in the limelight.

That’s why Other Effective Area-Based Conservation Measures (OECMs) are seen as part of the solution. OECMs are areas that are managed to effectively conserve biodiversity. They’re especially popular because they allow for community involvement in conservation, where community wellbeing could be one of the outcomes.

In South Africa, BirdLife South Africa is heading up a project to identify and assess potential OECMs. This project is looking to understand the capacity and resource requirements needed to assess OECMs. The Nuwejaars Wetlands Special Management Area (NWSMA) has been recognised as a potential OECM, having passed the initial criteria. In the past year, we presented the NWSMA as a candidate to the Provincial Stewardship Review Committee, and they supported our application. Currently the NWSMA is being used as a case study – locally, nationally and internationally – when presenting the OECM model. And we continue to work with BirdLife South Africa as this process unfolds. Our thanks also to the Table Mountain Fund for supporting this important process. 

New members come on board

The NWSMA is a 46 900 hectare area – of which half of it is conservation land. This land is made up of 25 landowners, and the community of Elim. These landowners have signed title deed restrictions, protecting this land in perpetuity. That means, even when the property is sold, the conservation commitments remain in place.

In the past year, we were thrilled to add two new members to our NWSMA family. WWF South Africa, a key donor of our conservation programmes, purchased a portion of Vissersdrift Farm, containing the Zoetendalsvlei. SANParks has been appointed the management authority – and will now become a close conservation colleague. Kosie Lourens bought a portion of Helderfontein, and is now also a member.

Objective 2

To manage, maintain and improve the ecological integrity of the NWSMA as a functioning ecosystem

One of our biggest threats is invasive alien plants. 

They contribute to climate change, burning hotter and more often than indigenous trees, thereby weakening natural ecosystems. This in turn makes these ecosystems less resilient to deal with climate change. And their weak root systems are easily uprooted during floods, with carbon-storing peat lost in flood waters. It’s estimated around 25% of the NRNR is heavily invaded by these invasive trees.

That’s why we’ve partnered with incredible donors, to help address this threat. Here’s what we’ve done in the past year. 

Restoration in a nutshell:


Aliens from above: Our mapping

In order to address our invasive alien plant threat, we need to understand where they are, and how to prioritise clearing. That’s why we undertook alien plant density verification in the past year, mapping the invasive plants on our NWSMA via our drone and a fixed-wing airplane (funded by the Fynbos Trust), as well as by ground truthing this through site visits. With this information, we can select essential corridor sites for clearing with the available funds. 

Restoration in action

Aside from the alien clearing work, we identified four areas in our wetlands that were particularly degraded and undertook other restoration steps.

  • Mild bank erosion control:

We planted Palmiet cuttings in the Nuwejaars River and wetlands, to protect riverbanks from erosion.

  • Gully erosion:

We used brush (biomass from invasives cleared) to create a filter to trap silt and organic matter normally carried away by flood waters. This helps reduce gully erosion.

  • Sheet erosion:

We transplanted wetland species from the surrounding area, to give protection and cover to a degraded river channel course.

  • Degraded vegetation:

On a six-hectare area that was used for high-intensity agriculture in the past, we tested shrub clusters – clusters of shrubs and wetland plants to create mini refuges and micro climates, serving as a stepping stone corridor through the landscape. Plants were donated by Gerrit Wagener of Redford Beverages, or transplanted from neighbouring vegetation, with the clusters surrounded by densely packed brush to prevent livestock grazing.

Here’s more on our restoration activities.

How our landscapes are responding

We undertake fixed-point photography to capture changes to vegetation composition and cover. Take a look at the difference, as captured over the past year:

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Vegetation surveys

Local botanists Rebecca Dames and Sean Privett of the Grootbos Foundation also undertook vegetation surveys. Four blocks were set aside, to see how natural vegetation recovers when clearing takes place. One block in particular showed incredible signs of recovery: A raft of new species were recorded, including incredible spring bulbs such as Gladiolus tristis, and riparian species such as Palmiet and Kniphofia uvaria. More.

How the birdlife has recovered

Our quarterly fixed radius bird counts help us collect trend data on bird communities present at our monitoring stations. This year we recorded 11 new species, added to 85 species sighted at the stations in the past.
Our bi-annual Coordinated Water Avian Counts (CWAC) monitors wetland birds across the entire NWSMA. Monitoring started in 2018, before invasive alien clearing activities started. While numbers vary based on seasonal changes, the overall linear trend shows an increase in the abundance and richness of bird species.

New invasive plants we’ve found

Brazilian Pepper

The Brazilian Pepper Tree (Schinus terebinthifolius) suddenly emerged on the NWSMA. This tree is also called the Brazilian holly, Christmas berry tree, pepper hedge or South American pepper. All populations have been removed for now.

Fountain Grass

Fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum)  is an invasive plant that spreads fast. We’ve found it growing on road verge within the boundaries of the NWSMA, where we’re spot treating it. Fountain grass (or pronkgras) is a Category 1b invader – which requires compulsory control.

Madeira Vine

Found on a member’s farm, the Madeira vine (Anredera cordifolia) can become a very aggressive invasive species if not controlled and eradicated. This South American plant may look harmless, but the team took swift action to remove it before it became a problem.

Natural roles for reintroduced species

In past centuries, many of our mega herbivores became locally extinct. That’s why we reintroduced many of these species, so that they can play the natural role they’re meant to play. Others that have always occurred naturally here are carefully managed.


The bontebok is an important flagship species for us, given that this is the original home of the species, which once faced extinction threats. With support from wildlife vet Dr Markus Hofmeyr, we moved an individual in the NWSMA to a new herd, to support genetic diversity. The herd, on Rooiwal, had no recorded recruitment. But with the introduction of the new ram, three lambs were born in the past year – showcasing the success of the move.


Thanks to the genetic diversity provided by the herd of buffalo donated by the Melozhori Nature Reserve in 2021, we’ve had a number of new calves in the year.


Numbers are growing steadily, with numerous calves seen in Waskraalvlei. Hippo help to keep our wetland channels open which allows the water to rehydrate our peat wetlands, in turn storing carbon.

Rau Quagga

We’re home to one of the biggest Rau Quagga populations in South Africa, forming part of the Rau Quagga Project, which seeks to ‘bring back’ this species from extinction. 

Meet some of the top stallions in The Quagga Project.

Freddy and his progeny Rain both show off the brown colouring between the stripes. At a distance they are sometimes even misidentified as eland. Soetanys, a new stallion recently released on the Nuwejaars wetlands by the Quagga Project, is also considered one of the top stallions in the project. While he may not have the distinct brown colouring, he has very few stripes on his hind legs – another good characteristic for Rau Quagga. More on Rau Quagga here.

Restoration through fire

Two ecological burns were undertaken in the past year – as part of our strategy to restore fynbos. Fynbos needs fire to stimulate growth. Usually fynbos needs to burn every 10-25 years, depending on the type of fynbos.

Moddervlei burn

Around 88 hectares of Elim Ferricrete Fynbos was set alight, as part of the WWF South Africa-funded project. It hadn’t burnt for more than 20 years and was covered in invasive plants. Our clearing teams then removed mature invasive trees that didn’t die during the fire. And when the invasive seeds started to emerge, we undertook follow-up clearing. (From the icon in the middle of the picture, slide the image either way to see the landscape before and after the burn). 

Heuningrug burn

Our second block burn took place in the Heuningrug management unit, where a controlled burn was undertaken in a patch of 98 hectares of Endangered Agulhas Limestone Fynbos. The lovely stretch hadn’t burnt in around 30 years. The fire will help to stimulate growth, given that fynbos is a fire-driven ecosystem and that many fynbos seeds only germinate after a burn. (From the icon in the middle of the picture, slide the image either way to see the landscape before and after the burn). 

Objective 3

To identify, understand and protect species of special concern in the NWSMA

Our flora assessments

The NWSMA is made up of wetlands, rivers and natural veld – both fynbos and renosterveld. Now we’re working to ground truth and investigate this natural vegetation, to determine floral species of conservation concern, and develop plans to protect them. In the past year, 13 342 ha were assessed, with some incredible floral finds.

Meet Geoff Nichols, our floral expert, who is botanising across the NWSMA.

Fynbos finds this past year:


Previously known from just one population, also in the NWSMA. A Critically Endangered species.

A gladiolus with a Vulnerable listing, known only from 10 locations.

The Endangered Agulhas Green Heath is known from only a few populations, most in the NWSMA.

The Hangflower Heath is Endangered, found only along the south western coast.

The Elim Hardleaf is Endangered. It’s known from 4 locations and is threatened by invasive plants.

Our flowering fire lily

In the past financial year, an unidentified Cyrtanthus species was confirmed as a species new to science. It was called Cyranthus novus-annus, also known as the Nuwejaars Fire Lily. There are fewer than 250 plants in total, and as such, it has been listed as Critically Endangered. Our monitoring and mitigation interventions for the species were carried out in the past year – with some 60 ha cleared of invasive alien plants in the fynbos surrounding the Cyrtanthus populations.

Leopards in the NWSMA

While the Cape Leopard Trust project concluded in the past financial year, our own monitoring of leopards in the NWSMA continued. This provides additional data, which we use to protect the species. We received wonderful feedback from the Cape Leopard Trust on the density analysis of leopards in our area, helping us to implement conservation measures to protect them. 

Our Echo Moth encounter

During our monitoring work, we continue to identify species on the NWSMA that have never been recorded here before. One such example is the Echo Moth (Achaea echo), found by Conservation Manager Eugéne Hahndiek at the Nuwejaars River. This species occurs across Africa.

A multitude of Micro Frogs

Micro Frog expert and researcher, Oliver Angus, headed out to the NWSMA in August 2022 to undertake more surveys on the Critically Endangered species in our wetlands. And his results revealed a few more secrets of this shy species.

  • Monitoring has shown an increased distribution range for the southernmost population of Micro Frogs. It looks like the Nuwejaars subpopulation of the Critically Endangered Microbatrachella capensis can be found in a 400 ha (or 4km²) area.
  • This shows around a 50% increase in total species occurrence, when compared to previous records.
  • It seems our Micro Frogs only use wetlands that are densely vegetated and are connected to other wetlands with suitable habitats.
  • And these must preferably be indigenous plants – they seem to mostly avoid highly invaded portions of the river.
  • They also prefer wetlands that are permanently moist. When these pans dry up, the frogs survive the hot summer in the damp soil, only to emerge in the winter time.

This is wonderful news, seeing as populations of Micro Frogs have declined due to the disappearance of suitable habitat and invasive alien plants across the Western Cape.

Objective 4

To promote and manage compatible uses of the NWSMA to support sustainability and create employment 


New models of income generation

A key focus for us is to identify and test new models of income generation, in order to support our conservation activities. In this past year, we’ve seen the incredible opportunities in invasive alien biomass. Our extensive alien clearing activities have provided biomass which, with the right model, could help to reduce our reliance on donor funds.

Support from abroad

We were successful in obtaining a grant from the International Climate Initiative (IKI), a fund implemented by the Germany Federal Ministry for the Environment. This potential project is dependent on us finding ways to use alien biomass as either a green fuel or to produce biochar. Income generated from this project would be channeled into ongoing invasive alien clearing across the NWSMA, with 25% of our region estimated to be heavily invaded by these invasive plants.

We continue to engage with potential partners in this opportunity. This includes negotiations with ICLEI, the world’s leading network of local and regional governments focused on sustainable development. ICLEI is supporting municipalities to reduce their carbon footprint – a project in which biochar could serve as a potential solution.

A nature destination

Every year, over the summer months, we invite tourists to visit our special part of the world, by joining our Wildlife Guided Tours. This year, tours opened at the start of December and ran till April. During that time, we hosted 309 adults and 20 children. We also hosted various specialised tours, including two birding tours and a Cyrtanthus tour.

We’re building bridges

In this instance, we mean that literally. With WWF South Africa support, we’re working to make our wetlands, and the incredible species living here, more accessible to tourists. In order to achieve that, we’re developing an interpretative walking trail. As part of this trail, we fixed an existing bridge that was weathered and rotting. The floorboards of the bridge were removed, and the underlying support structure was strengthened with additional cross bars, and beams and rotten wood were removed and replaced.

We also completed a bridge in the town of Elim. This forms part of a new trail that will take hikers to the wonderful Geelkop Nature Reserve and back.

Supporting small businesses in rural areas

The NWSMA aims to create jobs, especially in our rural Cape Agulhas region, where unemployment is high. But we do this not only by employing people directly, but also by creating opportunities for small businesses. In the past year, we had 34 people working for the NRNR, either as employees or contractors.

Our incredible teams

Thanks to funding from Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust, Denver Engel and his team of three, undertake the ecosystem services work required in the NWSMA. Get to know Denver here.

Gerty Holtzhausen and her team:

Through funding support from WWF South Africa, and co-funding from the Overberg District Municipality, Gerty and her team of 10 people work to restore our wetlands.

Marion Apollis and James Mavusa

Thanks to funding support from the National Lotteries Commission, which ended mid-2022, James and Marion’s teams cleared invasive plants across our threatened vegetation.

Objective 5

To promote a best practice sustainable agriculture model


Why farming and conservation can go hand-in-hand

Because the NWSMA is made up of natural land and agriculture areas, we are a unique conservation venture. Here we are piloting a new model, where farmers have realised the value of their natural land, and are together finding ways to protect these multi-use landscapes as a collective. Here’s more on why farming and conservation can go hand-in-hand.


Taking hands with partners

We work with partners to achieve our goals, including in our work to promote a best practice sustainable agriculture model. One such partner is the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, LandCare division. They offered our landowner members soil health analyses opportunities. The NRNR used this opportunity to sample the soil health of different areas throughout the WWF-SA project area, including pristine wetlands, an alien-infested area and also a rehabilitated area.

Regenerative Agriculture in the NWSMA

We hosted a delegation from Regenerative Agriculture South Africa in September 2022. This venture is setting up regenerative agriculture sites in the Western Cape, using a novel bridging financial strategy. The funding available is meant to cover the initial development years, while transitioning from “chemical based” agriculture to restorative agriculture. We now form part of the project via one landowner, Pieter Albertyn, who is doing trials with the group over the coming seasons. The goal here is to see the impact of regenerative agriculture on summer crops in the Agulhas Plain. 

Aside from this venture, some landowners are also testing this form of agriculture on trial portions of their farms, set out for regenerative activities.

Objective 6

To promote the work of the NWSMA and our environment

Contributing to conservation

The NRNR was awarded the most valuable contribution to conservation outside the formal stewardship programme by CapeNature. Our Operations Manager Ross Kettles received the award on behalf of the Nuwejaars team at the Biodiversity Stewardship Awards from CapeNature’s Dr Ernst Baard in February 2023 in Robertson. We were thrilled that biodiversity conservation driven by landowners on the ground was recognised.

Rewarded for innovation

The NRNR is a member of Conservation at Work – a non-profit organisation promoting conservation on private land in the Western Cape. At Conservation at Work’s annual Cape Fox Awards, Eugéne Hahndiek accepted our award as runner up in the Most Innovative Conservancy category, out of 10 entries.

Partnering for a better NWSMA

The Nuwejaars Wetlands Special Management Area catchment serves as a living laboratory for students from the University of the Western Cape (UWC). They’ve been undertaking research in our area for a number of years – and the results from their research feeds into our management interventions.

As such, a stakeholder session organised by the UWC was held in October at the Black Oystercatcher, where students and supervisors gave feedback on their findings. Attendees included SANParks officials, the Southern Overberg Botanical Society and the Breede-Gouritz Catchment Management Agency. Students looked at rainfall patterns, groundwater, the quality of the water and the ecosystem services provided by the wetlands. The NRNR team gave an introductory presentation at the event.

Communications highlights:

  • The discovery of the Nuwejaars Fire Lily – a species new to science – was well publicised during the financial year (see Media for more).
  • We communicate monthly with our members via an emailer and WhatsApp updates.
  • We work with wonderful partners such as WWF South Africa, who share our content on their own platforms.
  • We enjoyed a presence at NAMPO Kaap/Cape – a large agricultural exhibition held in the Overberg annually.
  • We are involved with some of the world’s largest citizen science events, such as the City Nature Challenge and the Great Southern Bioblitz.
  • Ross Kettles has a regular feature in the Suidernuus newspaper regarding a conservation theme related to the NWSMA.
  • It’s always an honour hosting our donors in the NRNR – and in the past year, we were thrilled to receive representatives from WWF South Africa, Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust and the Mapula Trust.


We enjoyed a strong media presence in the past year, thanks largely to the discovery of a species new to science, the Nuwejaars Fire Lily.

Making nature ‘real’ for children

The Nuwejaars wetlands were transformed into a school laboratory in November 2022. Three schools were hosted on an outing to the wetlands over the course of a week. Two of the schools were from Elim: the Elim Primary School and the Mispah School for Learners with Special Educational Needs. The Southgate Academy in Bredasdorp also joined the environmental education week. In total, 350 children were transported to our wetlands to experience nature. More here.

Financial statements for year ended
28 February 2023


The accompanying summary financial statements, which comprise the summary statement of comprehensive income and statement of financial position for the year ended 28 February 2023, 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.

Auditor’s Response

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 2023 by management and appear consistent.

BVA Overberg Incorporated
Registered Auditors

Statement of financial position as at 28 February 2023


Statement of comprehensive income for the year ended 28 February 2023


Donors and partners


To our donors over the past financial year, we are incredibly grateful. Thank you for your support, enabling us to protect this irreplaceable area, and improve lives here:



Donors and partners

To our donors over the past financial year, we are incredibly grateful. Thank you for your support, enabling us to protect this irreplaceable area, and improve lives here:


We work with

We work with


We work with

We work with