KZN’s Ingula nature reserve given wetland of international importance status
DURBAN - THE Ingula Nature Reserve has been declared a wetland of international importance, bringing to eight the number of parks holding this prestigious status in KwaZulu-Natal.
The natural park sits along the northernmost part of the Drakensberg mountain range, and borders KZN and the Free State.
Others are Kosi Bay, Lake Sibaya, Natal Drakensberg Park, Ndumo Game Reserve, Ntsikeni Nature Reserve, St Lucia System and uMgeni Vlei Nature Reserve.
Forestry, Fisheries and Environmental Affairs Minister Barbara Creecy welcomed the declaration made by the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance on Tuesday.
According to the department, the site falls within the northern Drakensberg Strategic Water Source Area (SWSA) and a national freshwater ecosystem priority area, and is made up of hill-slope wetlands, pans/depressions and floodplains.
Spokesperson Albie Modise said the addition brings the number of South Africa’s “Ramsar Sites” to 27, on a surface area of 571 089 hectares.
The Convention on Wetlands, also known as the Ramsar Convention, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.
He said wetlands were indispensable for the countless benefits of “ecosystem services” they provided, ranging from freshwater supply, food and building materials and biodiversity to flood control, groundwater recharge and climate change mitigation.
“Despite their significance to human life, wetlands are threatened nationally and globally. The 2018 National Biodiversity Assessment found that at least 79% of South Africa’s wetland ecosystems are threatened,” he added.
Rivers, wetlands and their catchments were crucial ecological infrastructure for water security, and often complemented built infrastructure, the assessment found.
Major threats to these freshwater systems included over-extraction of water, pollution, invasive alien species, habitat loss, land-use change and climate change, the report found.
“In pursuit of continued efforts to conserve the wetland ecosystems, the department has invested more than R83 million in the rehabilitation and maintenance of at least 75 wetlands in the current financial year,” Modise said.
The rehabilitation and maintenance of wetlands was co-ordinated through the Working for Wetlands Programme, an Expanded Public Works Programme that focuses on remedial interventions for maintaining healthy wetlands, he said.
Since its inception in 2004, the Working for Wetlands Programme had rehabilitated over 1 749 wetlands countrywide, thereby contributing to increased, healthier water supplies and improving the economic benefits of natural and agricultural habitats.
“This has created more than 40 274 jobs and skills development opportunities for South Africans.”
Modise said the northern Drakensberg Strategic Water Source Area was one of the 11 SWSs to be secured in terms of the government’s Medium-Term Strategic Framework target.
The site’s two sections straddled the continental watershed, with the upper part in the Wilge River catchment - which drained into the Atlantic Ocean - and the lower part in the Thukela River catchment, which drained into the Indian Ocean.
It supported a variety of life forms including plants, animals and microorganisms, the genes they contain and the ecosystems of which they formed a part.
“It hosts over 300 bird species, of which 24 are threatened, including the critically endangered white-winged flufftail (Sarothrura ayresi) and the endangered grey crowned crane (Balearica regulorum), secretary bird (Sagittarius serpentarius) and martial eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus). Some 34 mammal species have been recorded, including 11 carnivores and 10 antelope species, as well as 69 butterflies and 29 reptiles,” said Modise.