Work is underway to establish a high-altitude national park close to the Lesotho border and the Naude’s Nek pass – South Africa’s highest lying road at over 2500m.
This new park will see a 30 000-hectare protected area that, once formally declared, will become South Africa’s newest national park, significantly contributing towards the conservation of grasslands and water security.
SANParks Acting CEO, Dr Luthando Dziba, said the ultimate objective was to establish an ecologically, economically and socially sustainable consolidated protected area, primarily by working with private and communal landowners.
“The establishment of this national park will mark a new and innovative approach to protected area expansion as it will be located within a working agricultural landscape,” said Dziba.
The area is rich in biodiversity and endemic species. It also lies within the Eastern Cape Drakensberg Strategic Water Source Area, a natural freshwater source for people downstream.
“When declared, the park will also improve formal protection of South Africa’s grasslands which have been identified as a national conservation priority,” added Dziba.
The new Eastern Cape Grasslands National Park will be different from traditional parks. Local landowners will have the opportunity, through stewardship, to voluntarily incorporate their land in the park.
“As such, they also stand to benefit from a range of financial incentives for private and communal land that is formally protected,” explained Dziba.
WWF South Africa CEO Dr Morne du Plessis said: “The beauty of this model is that biodiversity conservation and ecological management will be done in partnership with those who live and work in this area – while allowing them to continue deriving benefits from their land through sustainable agriculture and other compatible land uses”.
The project, which also needs government funding, aims to restore and maintain the landscape for water security, bringing much-needed employment opportunities to the area through alien plant clearing and wetland restoration.
Thanks to its rugged, unspoilt landscape, the area has rich potential for adventure and cultural tourism, which could help build an all-year-round tourism industry, further unlocking potential jobs.
The declaration of a national park will also motivate the inclusion of this area into the adjacent Drakensberg World Heritage Site.
“Ultimately, this is a win-win – for nature and people. We can’t wait to see this project coming to fruition,” said du Plessis.