A brand-new nature reserve is on its way to being declared in South Africa, a landmark moment in securing the future of the unique biodiversity and cultural heritage of the Soutpansberg Mountain Range.

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The Soutpansberg flat lizard (Platysaurus relictus) is endemic to the Soutpansberg area.

A provincial Gazette Notice of Intent to Declare a Nature Reserve was published for the new Western Soutpansberg Nature Reserve. This is a critical step towards formally securing the Soutpansberg Mountain Range as a nature reserve under the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act, 57 of 2003 (NEM: PAA), the highest level of protection under the Act.

The Soutpansberg, situated in the north of Limpopo, contains many habitats, species diversity with high endemism (species that occur nowhere else), cultural heritage, water production and communities that rely on the mountain. Despite being recognised as a Critical Biodiversity Area (CBA) Category 1 (highest conservation priority) by the Limpopo Conservation Authority, a priority area for conservation by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area by BirdLife South Africa, less than 2% of this mountain is currently formally conserved. However, this is now changing.

The role of the EWT

The Endangered Wildlife Trust’s (EWT) Soutpansberg Protected Area Programme was established to kick-start the process of acquiring formal protection for a significant size of this mountainous landscape and has been working with Conservation Outcomes and ZZ2 to guide landowners in the Soutpansberg through the process of conserving their properties through biodiversity stewardship.

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Rock art in the Soutpansberg Mountains.

During this process, properties are assessed to determine their biodiversity value and conservation potential, which informs the suitable category of protection for their property.ormal assessments showed that all the properties included have sufficient biodiversity and ecosystem services value to qualify as nature reserves under the NEM: PAA. Furthermore, through signing the Notice of Intent to Declare a Nature Reserve the Member of the Executive Council of the Limpopo Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism (LEDET) has supported the application.

A collective vision

The Soutpansberg landowners, including the EWT as the owner of Medike Mountain Reserve (within the proposed new nature reserve), decided to declare their properties under one large nature reserve spanning the entire Western Soutpansberg. Role-players have one collective vision: to create a connected landscape under formal conservation, including priority species, habitats, hydrologically important areas and cultural heritage for the benefit of biodiversity, ecosystems and people in perpetuity.

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Some of the landowners and project partners during one of their planning meetings in 2019. They have been working together since 2018 towards a common vision of protecting the Western Soutpansberg.

The proposed nature reserve consists of 31 properties spanning 22 000ha of pristine mountain and valley bushveld. The reserve will become a new icon for Limpopo, attracting nature and cultural heritage enthusiasts who wish to enjoy the spectacular environment, and at the same time, contribute to local economic development through tourism and new opportunities in the green economy.

The work of the project team was made possible by the funding and support of The Rainforest Trust, The Coca-Cola Foundation’s Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN), Fondation Franklinia, ZZ2 and Douglas Wilson.  – Press release, Endangered Wildlife Trust

Watch a video about this project here: