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De Berg Nature Reserve designated as South Africa’s 30th Wetland of International importance

02 February 2024

The Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Ms Barbara Creecy, has welcomed the declaration of De Berg Nature Reserve as South Africa's 30th Ramsar site under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance.

"The conservation and restoration of wetlands is crucial to achieving many of our national and global sustainable development goals. Estuaries, marshes and vleis, rivers and lakes, and the biodiversity that they preserve, matter for our health, food supply, tourism, and jobs. Wetlands are vital for humans, ecosystems and our climate, providing essential ecosystem services such as water regulation, including flood control and water purification," said Minister Creecy.

"Through the Working for Wetlands Programme, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) has invested over R1.4 billion in the rehabilitation of 1,873 wetlands and created 43,662 jobs. The Working for Wetlands Programme, which commenced in the year 2000, is being implemented in all 9 provinces of South Africa by a dedicated team of experts working closely with communities," added Minister Creecy.

De Berg Nature Reserve is located along the headwaters of the Dwars River in the highest part of Mpumalanga approximately, 20 kilometres north of the town of Dullstroom, and lies adjacent to the Verloren Valei Ramsar Site. At an elevation of just over 2300 meters above sea level, the Ramsar site contains the highest altitude wetlands in Mpumalanga, consisting of numerous valley bottom, seep wetlands and mountain streams and represents some of the most pristine and habitat diverse watercourses in the South African grassland biome.

The Ramsar site, which is a biodiversity hotspot, not only supports numerous pristine headwater wetlands but also supports numerous threatened, critically endangered, and vulnerable species of plants and animals. The site falls within the Lydenburg and Sekhukhune centres of plant endemism and has a total of 878 indigenous plant species, which includes 30 plant species that are threatened and near threatened and includes a new species of Bulbine, (B decastroi) which can be found in the valleys of the Reserve.

This site also has 18 species of frogs, 71 reptile species, 432 bird species and a 120 mammal species, including Vandam's girdled lizard (Smaug vandami), various crane species such as blue crane and grey-crowned crane and mountain reedbuck. Many of these species are also rare and vulnerable species and include flocks of up to 30 of the vulnerable Southern Bald Ibis which roosts on the cliffs above Ibis Falls, one of 10 iconic waterfalls which can be found at the site. 

Although wetlands cover less than 3% of South Africa's land area, they offer diverse benefits that enrich human well-being. Wetlands are increasingly regarded in South Africa as socio-ecological systems as opposed to only ecological systems.  Many of our wetlands are in urban areas and are often the last remaining open areas for recreational use by the public.

"The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) – an entity of DFFE - is also actively contributing to wetland conservation through its comprehensive approach to mapping and understanding this critical ecological infrastructure, emphasizing that informed action today can make a significant difference for the future of wetlands, human well-being and biodiversity. Strategic Water Source Areas (SWSAs) are crucial to South Africa's water security, and various SANBI projects provide insight into land use and protection levels in these strategically important national assets," said Minister Creecy.

"Through the development of partnerships to monitor, protect and rehabilitate wetlands, by ensuring our wetlands are kept free of litter and invasive alien plant species and by ensuring that we follow best practices to ensure that wetlands are sustainably used for their services we show our appreciation for and acknowledge the value of wetlands and ensure that they remain in place to provide future generations with the same services," added Minister Creecy.

The designation of De Berg Nature Reserve as South Africa's 30th Ramsar Site under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance coincides with World Wetlands Day (2 February) which is commemorated under the theme "wetlands and human wellbeing".

For media queries contact
Peter Mbelengwa 
Cell: 082 611 8197

Editor's note:

The Ramsar Convention is an intergovernmental treaty adopted on 2 February 1971 in Ramsar (Iranian City) and currently has 172 contracting parties. South Africa (SA) became a contracting party to the Ramsar Convention in 1975, which was then the 5th signatory to the Convention.

The Ramsar Convention encourages the designation of sites containing representative, rare, or unique wetlands, or wetlands that are important for conserving biological diversity. Once designated, these sites are added to the Convention's List of Wetlands of International Importance and become known as Ramsar sites. In designating a wetland as a Ramsar site, countries agree to establish and oversee a management framework aimed at conserving the wetland and ensuring its wise use. Wise use under the Convention is broadly defined as maintaining the ecological character of a wetland. Wetlands can be included on the List of Wetlands of International Importance because of their ecological, botanical, zoological, limnological or hydrological importance.

For a wetland to be designated to this list, it must satisfy one or more of the criteria for identifying wetlands of international importance. This includes sites with rare wetland types that are in a good condition, and which support the critical life cycle stages of threatened species or of species that are rare both globally and in South Africa. They also include places where more than 20 000 bird species may be found or where more than 1% of a population of a specific bird species occurs. The Ramsar Criteria also apply to wetland areas that support other species of conservation concern such as rare, and threatened fish, plants, reptiles and mammals, especially when they occur in large numbers. 

South Africa currently has 30 Ramsar Sites. Each site is managed by a dedicated management authority which includes national and provincial government departments and conservation agencies, cities, and private landowners, often supported by the activities of various non-governmental organisations.

List of wetlands of international importance in South Africa, in order of designation

1De Hoop Vlei 
2  Barberspan
3  De Mond (Heuningnes Estuary)
4  Blesbokspruit
5  St. Lucia System
6  Turtle Beaches/Coral Reefs of Tongaland
8  Verlorenvlei
9  Orange River Mouth
10Kosi Bay
11  Lake Sibaya
12  Wilderness Lakes
13  Natal Drakensberg Park
14  Ndumo Game Reserve
15  Seekoeivlei Nature Reserve
16  Nylsvley Nature Reserve
17Verloren Valei Nature Reserve
18  Prince Edward Islands
19Makuleke Wetlands
20  Ntsikeni Nature Reserve
21uMgeni Vlei Nature Reserve
22False bay
23  Bot-Kleinmond Estuarine System
24  Dassen Island Nature Reserve
25  Dyer Island Nature Reserve
26Kgaswane Mountain Reserve
27  Ingula Nature Reserve
28  Berg Estuary
29  Middelpunt Nature Reserve
30De Berg Nature Reserve


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