In a commercial forestry landholding context, an Important Conservation Area (ICA) or Site of Conservation Significance (SCS) are areas that are important at the local level and are classified using a systematic conservation planning approach.
While planning approaches may differ between companies, most use similar criteria:
- Presence of Red Data List animals and plants
- Threat status of the ecosystem
- Aesthetic and recreational value
Sappi’s Important Conservation Areas
“An ICA is an area that has been classified using a systematic conservation planning approach to be important at the local level. Across Sappi owned land in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal there are currently 162 ICAs covering approximately 39 500 hectares or almost a third of Sappi’s unplanted areas” explains Peta Hardy, Sappi Environmental Analyst.
The criteria used for classifying an area as an ICA includes the presence of Red Data plant and animal species, threatened status ecosystems, the size, connectivity, condition, aesthetics and recreational value of the area. Some examples include the Mashonamien Forest on the Grootgeluk plantation in Mpumalanga, the Buccleuch Forest on the Clan Plantation in KwaZulu-Natal and the Karkloof Forest on the De Magtenburg plantation in KwaZulu-Natal. Numerous wetland systems have been identified, including the Metula vlei on the Lothair plantation, Taljaardsvlei on the Elandshoogte plantation and the Nomasila wetland along the Mhlatuze catchment on the Mooiplaas plantation. Extensive grasslands have also been classified as ICAs, these include Oosterbeek on the Twello plantation and Freeland Valley on Highflats.
“By classifying certain areas as ICAs, we by no means ignore or neglect other areas within the Sappi forestry landscape. ICAs merely provide an opportunity for focused measures of improvement. Part of this includes an ongoing exercise being conducted to evaluate the condition of Sappi ICAs. To date, 80% have been evaluated and almost two-thirds (61%) are considered to be in a good (48%) or natural state (13%). Of the remaining 39%, only 4% were found to be in poor condition with 35% or 45 sites considered moderately modified. Studies like this enable plantation managers to select the areas to work in to ensure the overall biodiversity condition of these sites improves going forward. With the ICAs providing tangible, visual evidence of both the actions required and those taken”, concludes Peta.
Photo credit: Peta Hardy
NCT Forestry’s Sites of Conservation Significance
“NCT Forestry and Agricultural Co-operative landholdings cover 30 000 hectares, just under 20% of this, 5 714 hectares, remains unplanted and includes numerous sites of conservation significance. These are managed, monitored and maintained to ensure the conservation of both biodiversity and ecosystem services. In addition, Members of the Co-operative own extensive agricultural landholdings which have uncultivated areas. Sites of conservation significance have been identified on some of these farms and NCT assists landowners with management plans for these areas”, explains Craig Norris, NCT Forestry Technology Manager.
Lenjane Conservation Area on the NCT owned Lenjane Farm, comprises 60 hectares of Eastern Mistbelt Forest adjacent to 32 hectares of bush. The Mistbelt Forest is contiguous with another 300 hectares of forest/bush on a neighbouring Community Property Association property, extending the size of this important yet fragmented habitat. Of significance, is the presence of highly endangered plant species found within this conservation area which need constant monitoring and protection.
Trewergie in the Richmond area of KwaZulu-Natal, includes 195 hectares of the highly threatened Natal Mistbelt vegetation type. This superb example of Natal Mistbelt has exceptional conservation values at the species, ecosystem and landscape level. A patchwork of Natal Mistbelt Forest patches in an extensive Natal Mistbelt Grassland, 28 threatened species have been sited on the property, including Blue Swallows (Hirundo atrocaerulea) and the Hilton daisy (Gerbera aurantiaca).
Friedheim Timbers near Vryheid includes 30 hectares of pristine Piet Retief Sourveld rocky grassland with an exceptional diversity of flowering plants.
Enon in the Richmond area of KwaZulu-Natal includes 206 hectares of very threatened KwaZulu-Natal Mistbelt vegetation in superb condition. One of the largest patches of Mistbelt Forest and high altitude Mistbelt Grassland under private ownership, it has exceptional conservation value at the species, ecosystem and landscape level especially as it neighbours a large conservation area and is contiguous with the NCT Oribi reserve called Minerva.
Baynesfield Estate between Richmond and Pietersmaritzburg includes a 400 hectare of Mistbelt Grasslands and Forest patches, that forms one of the largest, relatively intact Mistbelt Grassland landscapes in KwaZulu-Natal. There are several threatened and endangered species found within this landscape, including Blue Swallows (Hirundo atrocaerulea) and Grey Crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum).
Vergelegen in the Melmoth District includes approximately 350 hectares of vulnerable Northern midlands Moist Mistbelt Grasslands. Numerous threatened and rare plant species have been recorded at this property.
Photo credit: Steve Germishuizen and Craig Norris