Biodiversity – Plants and animals
The Haenertsburg grassland, one of the last remaining Woodbush Granites Grasslands, has a very high conservation value and in a recent scientific review it is listed as a Critically Endangered vegetation type and described as totally irreplaceable (Mucina and Rutherford 2006). There are plants and animals here which occur no where else in the world! In South Africa, the only other Critically Endangered vegetation type is the Fynbos Biome in the Cape. It has been identified as the most important vegetation type in Limpopo province but to date none of it is formally conserved (Mucina and Rutherford 2006). Two specialists in Botany and Herpetology from the Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism (LEDET) have analysed this grassland and confirmed that it is vitally important to conserve (studies available upon request). Following these studies an application was lodged with LEDET to have it declared a nature reserve and inter departmental discussions were held with the Department of Public Works.
Sonette Krynauw (previously of the University of Limpopo) and Pieter Winter (SA National Biodiversity Institute) have identified 42 plants, which are protected or are listed on the red data list on the Haenertsburg grassland.
The Haenertsburg grassland, is the only place in the area where the following red data bird species have been confirmed by Ben De Boer (Limpopo Birding route):
The vulnerable Grass Owl (Tyto capensis) – is threatened by loss of grasslands.
The near-threatened Boadtailed Warbler (Schoenicola brevirostris) – has returned to the Haenertsburg grassland since implementation of a three year fire plan.
One red data reptile species, the vulnerable Methuen’s Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus methueni) has been confirmed by Clayton Cook a qualified Zoologist. This reptile is particularly threatened by plantations and frequent fires.
The near-threatened Northern Forest Rain Frog (Breviceps sylvestris) is a red data amphibian species that is affected by continual habitat destruction and degradation.
There are also some arthropod red data species that are known:
The rare Bolas Spider (Cladomelea akermani) – has been photographed and identified by the Spider Club of Southern Africa and the ARC. Due to its nocturnal habits very little is known about this species.
The vulnerable Wolkberg Widow butterfly (Dingana clara).
The preliminary surveys that have been done have all highlighted conservation important species for plants, amphibians and reptiles. Further studies on animals that have been neglected to date such as small mammals, birds and insects will reveal more conservation important species given the existing facts. Any proposed developer would first have to undertake further specialist studies to address these gaps in knowledge making this a very costly exercise.
Source of traditional plants
A large percentage of South Africa’s population uses traditional medicine for primary health care, which has lead to a buoyant trade in the plant material used for this purpose. Most of the material is from wild harvested plants, e.g. Athrixia phylicoides. Many traditional medicinal plants are therefore becoming scarce and it is vital that this natural heritage is protected and managed correctly both for present and future generations. There are numerous medicinal and other useful plants which are critical income generators for the poorest people in Limpopo. The value of natural areas to the rural poor has in the past been underestimated by decision makers. Numerous studies by Sheona and Charlie Shackleton and co workers show that natural areas are of significant economic value at the household level. Therefore it is essential that any proposed developer be required to undertake an Environmental Economic Assessment to determine the value of the grassland to all stakeholders in the short, medium and long term before any land use change is contemplated.
Extremely rare Greenstone rock and boulders, dating back to 3 200 million years, are found in the Haenertsburg grassland. These originate from one of the earliest micro-continents, the Kaapvaal Craton.
Water catchment area
There are two natural springs on the Haenertsburg Grassland which feed into Ebenezer Dam, a vitally important water storage dam for the entire area including the city of Polokwane. In addition, the grassland acts as a sponge and retains moisture for longer periods than the huge surrounding areas planted to exotic timber. Anton Killian an engineer at the Greater Tzaneen Municipality has indicated that any further developments in Haenertsburg would pollute the catchment if they relied on septic tanks and a sewage plant would be needed.
The information presented above is based on the best available scientific knowledge which is available at present. These views can be verified with credible national conservation bodies including the South African Biodiversity Institute, the Wildlife Society of SA, the Botanical Society of SA, the Endangered Wildlife Trust and WWF-SA.
All residents of Haenertsburg village are urged to participate in the Grassland Guardian award. This is an incentive scheme which has developed to assist people in identifying invasive exotic plants and removing them. Don’t worry, this does not include crab apples, azaleas, roses and may other exotics which beautify the village without spreading into the grassland. Your participation shows that the village is aware of the importance of the grassland and is acting in a stewardship role to conserve it. HEMAG members volunteer their time to offer advice on how to proceed.
Davis, S.D., Heywood, V.H. and Hamilton, A.C. (Ed) 1994. Centres of plant diversity Volume 1. IUCN Publications, Cambridge.
Dzerefos, C.M. 2004. Veld and Flora. Yesterday, today and tomorrow - The story of the Haenertsburg Grasslands of Limpopo. Vol: 90(1). March issue.
Knoll, C. 2002. Haenertsburg Townlands – Protecting Grasslands. Urban Green File. May/June.
Mathews, W.S., Van Wyk, A.E. and Bredenkamp, G.J. 1993. Endemic flora of the north eastern Transvaal escarpment, South Africa. Biol. Conserv. 63: 83-94.
Mucina, L. and Rutherford, M.C. (eds). 2006. The vegetation of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. Strelizia 19. South African Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
Winter, P. 1999. An analysis of the flora of the Haenertsburg commonage (Haenertsburg Townlands). In: The Greater Haenertsburg TLC. LDO report. Compiled by SETPLAN Services Inc, Rivonia.