We know the region is vital, because we buffer the Agulhas National Park (South African National Parks property).
What makes the Nuwejaars Wetlands Ecosystem so important?
The Agulhas Plain has the largest storehouse of lowland fynbos in the world – and we’re right in the centre of it. It’s a biologically-rich vegetation (with about 1850 species found here) – but is perhaps the most threatened vegetation type (315 are species of special concern). We’re home to beautiful but endangered fynbos species like the Protea pudens and Erica regia – found only here, and nowhere else in the world.
The SMA was created around the wetlands and water systems of the Agulhas Plain and Overberg. But wetlands here were unprotected for many years – with devastating effects. Already nearly a quarter of wetlands on the Agulhas Plain have been lost forever.
Here’s how the water system works:
- The Nuwejaars River connects the wetlands and lakes of the SMA, and is fed by many smaller tributaries. The wetlands here act as a reservoir, as they are crucial in absorbing excess water flow.
- One wetland system, the Voëlvlei system, under normal circumstances drains into the Nuwejaars River.
- From here, the Nuwejaars River flows into the largest natural freshwater lake in South Africa, Soetendalsvlei (also in the SMA).
- When the vlei is full, it overflows into the Heuningnes River – feeding the Heuningnes Estuary (in De Mond), a Ramsar Site noting the international importance of this area.
- BUT: During times of flooding, the Nuwejaars River flows into the Voëlvlei wetland system and vlei – which then absorbs this excess water. Marshes and wetlands can be found all along the Nuwejaars River, especially on those properties above the Soetendalsvlei – all essential in managing the natural flow of water.
The Cape Action for People and the Environment (C.A.P.E.) describes the Nuwejaars Wetland Ecosystem as ‘highly irreplaceable’.
And it’s not only the wildlife outside the river and wetlands that matter. The rivers and streams that feed into the Nuwejaars River are vital habitats for endangered species such as the Nuwejaars redfin – a tiny fish standing on the brink of extinction.
We’re part of an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area, as recognised by Birdlife SA.
That’s because we’re home to globally threatened bird species like the Blue Crane, Denham’s Bustard, Secretarybird and Martial Eagle. Not to mention regionally threatened species like the Agulhas Long-billed Lark and Caspian Tern.
The threats to the Nuwejaars Wetlands Ecosystem are a daily fight for us.
- Invasive alien plants have spread rapidly throughout the Agulhas Plain.
- Uncontrolled fires are happening more often (largely due to the increase in alien plants, which burn easily).
- Large floods have damaged wetlands, and we’ve lost carbon-storing peat as a result.
- And all of this has been exacerbated by climate change.
That’s why for us at the Nuwejaars Wetlands Special Management Area, it’s our top priority to rehabilitate core conservation areas and cultural features throughout the region.
What have we done to date?
- We’ve fenced out agricultural areas – and have tried to connect our conservation areas, to allow game and vegetation to move within these ‘corridors’.
- We’ve cleared thousands of hectares of land of invasive alien trees, in turn creating jobs for many Agulhas Plain residents.
- We initially used chipped plant material to rehabilitate our wetlands (decomposed chips over time form the basis of peat, found in our wetlands and rivers).
- Indigenous trees were planted along riverbanks, to prevent alien re-growth.
- Game that became extinct on the Agulhas Plain in previous centuries have also now been reintroduced. Buffalo, hippo (both last seen here between 150 and 200 years ago) and hartebeest now roam the land within the Special Management Area (SMA).
- Eland, ‘quagga’ and bontebok were also released on the Nuwejaars land.
- We’ve got a conservation team who monitor the game and vegetation. And who connect with universities in vital research projects.
All our efforts form part of our fight against climate change on the Agulhas Plain. Wild animals are much less destructive than livestock to the sensitive natural habitat. Hippos, too, facilitate wetland rehabilitation by spreading the water and unblocking channels as they walk. That means wetlands don’t dry out so quickly, nor so much during the dry summer months.
Visit the area
If you love the outdoors, the Nuwejaars Wetlands SMA offers a natural world you won’t see anywhere else. More.