NUWEJAARS WETLANDS SMA are the custodians of natural landscapes that are invaluable in terms of biodiversity. There are 25 members belonging to this innovative new conservation venture located right at Africa’s southernmost tip.
Together they taken private land, bordering on the Agulhas National Park, and committed it to conservation, farming sustainably, fighting climate change and benefiting all who live here. This includes the culturally-rich town of Elim.
The group has signed restrictions against title deeds and has committed to living and farming in accordance with carefully considered conservation principles. They have created a Section 21 Company (the Nuwejaars River Nature Reserve), which ensures all income that is generated is pushed back into conservation work.
In the early 1990s, just 4 percent of the Agulhas Plain enjoyed any form of conservation. Frequent fires, invasive plants and habitat transformation adversely affected much of the remaining land. Pressure on farming operations through rising input costs forced landowners to use more and more natural land, and climate change led many to look for alternative production systems. But even so the area is still considered a biodiversity hotspot because of the unique animals, flora and landscapes found in the region. Of the 1850 plant species that grow in the wild, at least 315 are of special concern with many of those found nowhere else in the world.
The region is also home to many threatened bird species and has been included as one of BirdLife South Africa’s Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas. Birds found here include the Hottentot buttonquail, blue crane, black harrier, secretary bird, Denham’s bustard, southern black korhaan, Agulhas Long-billed ark and many, many more. The NWSMA revolves around the wetlands. The area is the majority of the catchment of the Nuwejaars River, which connects with many wetlands crossing the plain. These wetlands and rivers ultimately feed the De Mond Estuary – a Ramsar Site of International Importance.
Landowners and conservation groups realised something needed to be done to protect the greater area and today the NWSMA is run as a voluntary association, where private ownership is maintained with the addition of title deed restrictions signed by all members. But the natural areas in the Special Management Area are managed jointly and strategically. That empowers landowners and land users to concentrate on sustainable food production - with the agricultural sector being a major job creator in the region.