For wetlands and wildlife – 15 years of conservation action

 

 The Nuwejaars Wetlands are celebrating 15 years of formal protection through title deed restrictions. It was just more than 15 years ago that Nuwejaars Wetlands Special Management Area (NWSMA) members – 25 landowners at the time – signed the Constitution committing to protect this important natural area forever.

 

But the origins of the NWSMA are even older: The impetus to care for nature, in a venture driven by the farmers and communities who owned the land and lived here, really took hold in the early 1990s. That’s when research first showed that only 4% of the Agulhas Plain enjoyed any form of formal protection. That’s despite the area being home to threatened fynbos and vitally important wetlands that support life and livelihoods here.

And as early as 2003, landowners first signed a Statement of Intent to protect the Nuwejaars wetlands, rivers and natural land, and to seek to enhance the wellbeing of all who lived here.

 

The partners who got things started…

 

Thanks to incredible support from key partners, the first NWSMA projects were launched from early 2009 onwards, when the title deed restrictions in favour of conservation were officially signed by members. These partners at the start included:

 

  • The Development Bank of Southern Africa who provided funding for the creation of the first Development Framework, drafted by Dennis Moss Partnership
  • The Global Environmental Facility-funded Agulhas Biodiversity Initiative who invited the NWSMA to form one of their main objectives in their project
  • The German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature, Conservation and Nuclear Safety awarded a grant for the initial set-up phase, facilitated by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Department of Agriculture and SANParks
  • The Table Mountain Fund provided support for a project coordinator.

During this set-up phase, considerable strides were made:

– A 120km-long game fence was erected for conservation and buffer areas
– Game that had roamed here in past centuries were reintroduced, including hippo, buffalo, bontebok, eland and hartebeest
– Thousands of hectares of land were restored through restoration initiatives, in particular invasive alien clearing
– And work was undertaken to restore river courses that had become degraded over time.

These activities created the platform for the NWSMA today.

 

Over the coming years, while new projects were launched, the NWSMA remained true to the Development Framework. However, from early 2020 onwards, it became clear that the biodiversity management plan needed updating to speak to new conservation priorities and threats.

By 2022, under the guidance of the Fynbos Trust, this new plan was implemented with input from the members.

This document defines the values and purpose of the NWSMA for the next decade, up to 2032: To protect and manage the conservation areas and interface into one functioning ecosystem for nature; and through this providing sustainable socio-economic opportunities, environmental education and tourism opportunities.

It has also set the course for the NWSMA’s current focus areas – with conservation of the NWSMA, restoration of land and waterscapes, protection of wildlife (both animals and plants), a drive for sustainable agriculture and the search for economic sustainability at the heart of this work.

The NWSMA’s reach over the 15 years has been achieved through the many projects that were implemented here.

In recent times, these have included:

26km

Around a 26km stretch along perennial and non-perennial rivers, including the Nuwejaars River and surrounds have been restored in a project funded by WWF South Africa. Through this restoration work, which has taken place over the last six years, invasive alien plants have been removed and degraded areas have been rehabilitated.

Wildlife & People

The end result is not only a better environment for wildlife – especially waterbirds and amphibians such as the Critically Endangered Micro Frog – but also for downstream communities, who rely on water from this source. Aside from downstream towns such as Struisbaai, Agulhas and Suiderstrand, the river also feeds into the De Mond Estuary, a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance.

Critically Endangered species

Through veld management, threatened fynbos types are better understood and protected. Monitoring these veld types has resulted in incredible discoveries of Critically Endangered species. This includes the discovery of a species new to science, and a species that was thought to have become extinct.

Leopards

At the same time, we’ve learnt more about the wildlife that live in these habitats, including the population of leopards that move about secretly here.

Bontebok haven

Game management has ensured healthy populations of animals – including the released buffalo and hippo. And the NWSMA has the potential to become a core haven for bontebok – once on the brink of extinction, with a large population able to roam here.

Home to Rau Quagga

The NWSMA has since the early 2010s been home to Rau Quagga that form part of the Quagga Breeding Project – a project to ‘revive’ the extinct quagga. Some of the top specimens, including Freddy and Rain, are still here.

The NWSMA is as much about people as about nature.

Environmental education
  • Environmental education has been at the core of our work over the past few years – and we have provided nature lessons to between 300 and 350 children a year over the past three years, all from local schools.
84 000 meals
  • At the height of the Covid-pandemic, the NWSMA team worked with incredible partners to provide 184 000 meals to those most in need. That came to 1 600 meals a day, for five days a week, between May and October in 2020.
Employment
  • Employment has also been created, with an ecosystem maintenance team and restoration team employed, and more invasive alien clearing teams employed as funding becomes available. Since 2009, around 300 jobs have been created here.
Joined the journey
  • Throughout the 15 years, students, interns and staff have joined the journey – and while some are still part of the team, others have used the skills they picked up here to move into new roles.

Meet some of the people who helped shape the NWSMA:

Joey Cloete – Retired Ecosystem Services Team leader:

I worked for the Nuwejaars Wetlands SMA for 10 years, and I really enjoyed it. I started working here without having any maintenance experience, and here I learnt how to undertake maintenance. So much so that afterwards I asked myself: Did I really do all of this work here?

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I love animals and the outdoors (fishing is my favourite hobby), so it also made it easy for me to adapt quickly to this kind of work, because I had it in me already. And I learnt about nature – not to touch tortoises, nor to harm snakes. That love for nature was in me all along, and it made my time here easy and enjoyable.

Rory Allardice – Former Project Leader: NWSMA

The Nuwejaars Wetlands Project was the highlight of my conservation career. Several firsts in this project will be hard to equal. There were no South African or international examples to follow. I’m honoured to have played a part in these actions to establish the Nuwejaars SMA.

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At the start, there was one farmer held in high regard in the community. He had the most objections and questions (to establishing the NWSMA). I thought he would be the first to withdraw, and without his support, the project would fail. He was the first to sign the Constitution and the restrictions on his title deeds. Since then, he has consistently worked towards the vision, by removing alien vegetation on his farm. This was my lesson in the power of patience and perseverance.

When we released the hippo one evening, I was sitting on top of the transport container with Mick D’Alton. I was emotional. I confessed to him that I doubted I would ever do anything so significant again in my career.

It is now 15 years on. Other similar projects funded by the German government at the same time, have failed. The Nuwejaars SMA has met many of its objectives. Its vision has become entrenched in the members’ day to day farming activities. I am proud to have played a part in its success. The Nuwejaars project has introduced me to icons. People who are incredible leaders and visionaries. People who I hold in high esteem.

Aside from the donors who supported the NWSMA at the start, there have been incredible donors and partners throughout our journey. These include:

WWF South Africa
Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust
– Harry Moore
Table Mountain Fund
– Mapula Trust
Overberg District Municipality
National Lotteries Commission
Fynbos Trust
Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment
Tygerberg Bird Club
– And many individual donors

Every day we ...

Protect our nature

The Nuwejaars Wetlands Special Management Area (SMA) is found within a biodiversity hotspot – the Agulhas Plain, at the southernmost tip of Africa.

Support social wellbeing

The Nuwejaars Wetlands SMA employs six people permanently, two Conservation Managers and four in our maintenance team.

 

 

Promote Tourism

The region's rare fynbos and renosterveld, and distinctive wildlife are ideal for nature lovers. The cultural heritage of the Plain is rich, with the missionary town of Elim a must-see for tourists.

 

 

 

Access our biodiversity

If we want to reach social and environmental sustainability, the Nuwejaars Wetland Special Management Area must achieve economic sustainability.

 

Teaching about nature

School outings are now being hosted to the Nuwejaars Wetlands SMA, where children can connect with this wondrous, intricate natural world.  

 

Sustainable Agriculture

Traditionally private landowners in the Overberg have made their income from agricultural activities, like grain and livestock farming.

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

 

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