“Biodiversity stewardship is an approach to entering into agreements with private and communal landowners to protect and manage land in biodiversity priority areas, led by conservation authorities in South Africa. It recognises landowners as the custodians of biodiversity on their land. Biodiversity stewardship is based on voluntary commitments from landowners, with a range of different types of biodiversity stewardship agreements available to support conservation and sustainable resource use. Some types of biodiversity stewardship agreements are formally declared as protected areas in terms of the Protected Areas Act, providing long-term security for the sites involved.” Updated biodiversity stewardship factsheet (Oct 2015) available for download here.

The forestry component was the first of the Grasslands Programme’s sector initiatives to secure grassland biodiversity conservation through biodiversity stewardship agreements on privately owned forestry land. Mondi Shanduka’s Gilboa Nature Reserve, the first successfully proclaimed site on private forestry land, was established early in 2010. Since then, additional declarations have added further protected areas in the forestry sector. Since then, over 40 sites covering approximately 59 000 hectares have been assessed and found to be worthy of either Protected Environment or Nature Reserve status under the Protected Areas Act by the stewardship programmes or by ecologists. The declaration of these sites are at various stages in the biodiversity stewardship process. Those that have received proclamations include but are not limited to:

Gilboa Nature Reserve (2010): The Mt Gilboa Nature Reserve is situated in Mondi Shanduka’s Mount Gilboa forestry estate in Karkloof. This was the first forestry property to be proclaimed as a private nature reserve in KwaZulu-Natal using the Biodiversity Stewardship mechanism. Mt Gilboa is located at the headwaters of three important river systems, the Umvoti River, the Myamvubu River that flows into the Mooi River, and the Mholweni River that flows into the Umgeni River. It includes extensive functional peat wetlands, which provide significant wetland functions and services such as water purification and flood attenuation. The reserve covers ‘critically endangered’ midlands mistbelt grasslands and hosts threatened species such as the Wattled Crane, Samango monkey and Oribi.

Mbona Private Nature Reserve (2011): A 600 ha privately owned area near to Karkloof in KwaZulu-Natal. This reserve contains near pristine Moist Midlands Mistbelt landscape with particularly large population of the vulnerable medicinal plant Scilla natalensis. Oribi are also present.

Gelijkwater Nature Reserve (2011): A Mondi owned area of 1100 hectares in northern KwaZulu-Natal. This reserve contains undulating mistbelt grassland with a substantial wetland at the source of the Mfule River, an important tributary of the Mhlatuze River. The reserve has habitat for breeding pairs of Blue Cranes and Crowned Cranes.

Clairmont Mountain Nature Reserve (2013): Clairmont Nature Reserve is a Sappi site that contains grasslands and forested valleys, which fall within Bulwer biosphere reserve on the botanically highly diverse Mahwaqa Mountain. The mountain has been extensively surveyed and shown to support over 1000 species of plants. The reserve is significant from a conservation point of view because it connects two existing nature reserves.

Forest Side Nature Reserve (2013): A 700 ha site in southern KwaZulu-Natal. This reserve is on land managed by NCT Forestry Co-operative. This are protects a large expanse of natural temperate forests.

Weza Protected Environment (2013): A protected environment of approximately 300 ha that is managed by Singisi Forest Products. This protected environment contains natural temperate forests.

Excelsior Protected Environment (2013): An extensive network of Moist Highland Sourveld in good condition with numerous wetlands and steeply undulating topography. It is the source for tributaries of the Mzimkulu River. Red data species include Oribi and Stanleys Bustard.  This protected area of approximately 1600 hectares is in the Underberg region of KwaZulu-Natal and will be managed by Mondi.

Mount Shannon Protected Environment (2013): A Mondi owned site in KwaZulu-Natal. This reserve contains extensive valley areas forming part of the Mkomaas River catchment in the highly threatened Moist Midlands Mistbelt. There is a large colony of the vulnerable Encephalartos ghelinkii, breeding pairs of the critically endangered Wattled Crane and a population the vulnerable Oribi.

Mpumalanga reserves (2013): Eight sites in Mpumalanga, totalling almost 15 000 hectares, have been declared as Forest Nature Reserves under the National Forest Act. These reserves are on forestry land owned by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. They represent areas of relatively pristine montane grasslands, mistbelt forest, northern escarpment and dolomite grasslands. All of the areas are of significant biodiversity value because they are fully or partially targeted in the Mpumalanga Biodiversity Conservation Plan as of high irreplaceability, are endangered ecosystems, or are areas earmarked for protected area expansion. The sites also contain the headwaters of several river systems such as the Ohrigstad River, Spekboom River, Blyde River and Sabie River. The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Komatiland Forest Company will manage these reserves.

Updated factsheet (Oct 2015) available for download here.

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