Nicholas Theron

An intention to declare has been published which will expand the iconic Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve by an additional 20 157 ha. This is the culmination of many years of work that has been driven by the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) and supported by the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere Region as part of the SANBI Biodiversity and Land-use Project over the past 4 years.

The true champions of this process are the four communities surrounding the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve that have claimed the reserve. The communities are constituted as part of four Communal Property Associations (CPAs) and together with MTPA form part of an interim co-management committee. The CPAs believe in the role they play and the responsibility they have as custodians of the land for future generations and have therefore taken the decision to incorporate adjacent areas that form part of the former lowveld plantation areas into the reserve.

These areas are also the site of a concerted restoration effort that includes the clearing of alien invasive plants but also the appropriate application of fire to restore this landscape and improve ecological functioning especially from a water provisioning perspective. These efforts are contributing to job creation in the region with the CPAs involved with and supporting these processes.

The key drivers for the declaration include: (a) classification of the area as a National Strategic Water Source Area, critical for water security in the region, (b) iconic rivers such as the Blyde, Sabie, Sand and Klaserie originate in the mountains and supplies water to: towns and communities (Bushbuckridge, Acornhoek, Hoedspruit & Phalaborwa etc); agricultural sector; Kruger National Park, private game reserves and Mozambique. Additional drivers are the (c) high levels of plant diversity occurring with over 1400 plant species recorded, many of which only found here; (d) making important contributions to the protection targets for vegetation types such as Legogote Sour bushveld, Northern Escarpment Dolomite Grassland, Escarpment Quartzite Sourveld and Escarpment Riverine Forest; (e) potential for eco-tourism development as a contributor to the local economy and community beneficiation; and (f)the importance from a cultural and historical perspective.

We celebrate the role local communities play in supporting the conservation of this iconic landscape which is regionally and nationally important, not only from a tourism perspective but also for the  ecosystem services that originate here and that all of us in the lowveld rely on.

For further information on the intention to declare and/or to submit any comments please email brian.morris@mtpa.co.za

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