Seriously Threatened Grasslands Receive Attention

HAENERTSBURG - With the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) declaring in November last year that the grasslands biome is one of the most threatened in South Africa, the Wolkberg to Woodbush Conservation Planning Workshop was a timely event.

This area stretches from the large indigenous Woodbush forest to the grasslands in the foothills around Haenertsburg, and is home to many endemic plant species, including bulbs and rare aloes. The only nest of the critically endangered blue swallow in Limpopo was also found in the region.

Chairperson of the newly formed Wolkberg to Wilderness Forum, Cathy Dzerefos, says that in every single month from November to March, she has observed earthworks taking place in the grasslands, destroying rare species and upsetting the ecosystem.

The workshop came up with the aim of stabilising and reducing the loss of biodiversity in the Wolkberg to Wilderness area by 2010, and to ensure its sustainable use in the future. Held in Haenertsburg on March 16 and 17, 2005, it was attended by over 32 local and regional stakeholders.

These included representatives from the lumber and forestry industry, government departments, the Greater Tzaneen Municipality, the botanical society and a traditional healer. The group will meet up on a quarterly basis to see if they are meeting their objectives, one of which is creating an awareness of the importance and fragility of grasslands.

SANBI have estimated that less than three percent of the grasslands in South Africa are formally conserved, despite the fact that they contain the highest diversity of indigenous species after the Cape Floristic Kingdom. The workshop was funded by the Earthwatch Institute as the culmination of two years' funding received for two consecutive surveys for Blue Swallows in the area. It was convened by the Haenertsburg Environmental Monitoring and Action Group.

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