Ingula Nature Reserve designated as South Africa’s 27th wetland of international importance

04 May 2021


The Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Ms Barbara Creecy, has welcomed the declaration of the Ingula Nature Reserve as a wetland of international importance by the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance.

The Ingula Nature Reserve sits along the northernmost part of the Drakensberg mountain range, between Free State and KwaZulu-Natal. The site falls within the Northern Drakensberg strategic water source area (SWSA) and a national freshwater ecosystem priority area and is made up of hillslope wetlands, pans/depressions and floodplains.

This addition brings the number of South Africa’s Ramsar Sites to 27 covering a surface area of 571,089 hectares. The Convention on Wetlands, also known as the Ramsar Convention, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.

Wetlands are indispensable for the countless benefits or “ecosystem services” that they provide, ranging from freshwater supply, food and building materials, and biodiversity, to flood control, groundwater recharge, and climate change mitigation, despite managing them being a global challenge.

Despite their significance to human life, wetlands are threatened nationally and globally. The 2018 National Biodiversity Assessment found that at least 79% of South Africa’s wetland ecosystems are threatened. The report emphasises the role of rivers, wetlands and their catchments as crucial ecological infrastructure for water security and often complementing built infrastructure. Major threats to these freshwater systems include over-extraction of water, pollution, invasive alien species, habitat loss, land-use change and climate change.

In pursuit of continued efforts to conserve the wetland ecosystems, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment has invested more than R83 million in the rehabilitation and maintenance of at least 75 wetlands in the current financial year. The rehabilitation and maintenance of wetlands is coordinated through the Working for Wetlands Programme, an Expanded Public Works Programme that focuses on remedial interventions for maintaining healthy wetlands. This programme is demonstrating that it is possible to pursue conservation outcomes while at the same time realising socio-economic objectives.

Since its inception in 2004, the Working for Wetlands Programme has rehabilitated over 1749 wetlands countrywide, thereby contributing to increased healthier water supplies improving the economic benefits of natural and agricultural habitats. This has created more than 40 274 jobs and skills development opportunities for South Africans.

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Editor’s notes


Northern Drakensberg strategic water source area is one of the 11 strategic water source areas to be secured in terms of the MTSF target.

The Site’s two sections straddle the continental watershed, with the upper part in the Wilge River catchment which drains into the Atlantic Ocean and the lower part in the Thukela River catchment which drains into the Indian Ocean. The Reserve lies between 1,260 and 1,900 metres above sea level, and mainly consists of dry grassy plains – which are partly cultivated and irrigated – interspersed with extensive wetlands. The area is characterized by summer rainfall, temperate summers and very cold winters. The rainfall season stretches from September to April with a mean annual rainfall ranging from 800 mm to 1000 mm.

The site supports a variety of all life forms including plants, animals and microorganisms, the genes they contain, and the ecosystems of which they form a part. It hosts over 300 bird species, of which 24 are threatened including the critically endangered white-winged flufftail (Sarothrura ayresi) and the endangered grey crowned crane (Balearica regulorum), secretary bird (Sagittarius serpentarius) and martial eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus). 34 mammal species have been recorded –including 11 carnivores and 10 antelope species – as well as 69 butterflies and 29 reptiles. The rare African weed orchid (Disa tysonii) is also present. The site has approximately 1% of the total global population of the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail. The Ingula Nature Reserve also has 69 species of Butterflies recorded, and 29 species of reptiles including the Sungazer (also known as ‘ouvolk’ (Smaug giganteus) that is endemic to the Grassland Biome.

The nature reserve was established in 2003 as a condition by the then Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism in the Environmental Impact Assessment of the construction of a pumped storage scheme in 2002 which led into a partnership between the landowner Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd, BirdLife South Africa and the Middelpunt Wetland Trust.

Annotated List of Wetlands of International Importance

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