Beyond Beauty: The Ecological Importance of the new Northern Drakensberg Nature Reserve

grassland northern drakensberg

Northern Drakensberg nature ReserveMontusi, together with our neighbours, has established the Northern Drakensberg Nature Reserve (NDNR): 6,500 hectares of officially gazetted conservation area that will remain pristine for generations to come.

In the 1980s, Anthony Carte led the hospitality landowners of the region into establishing a biosphere to protect the natural wilderness of the Drakensberg from overdevelopment.

The biosphere evolved into an unofficial conservancy, but clashing interests eroded the relationships between landowners.

Northern Drakensberg Nature Reserve
Montusi Mountain Lodge is located in the newly formed Northern Drakensberg Nature Reserve

It took the effort of one person who didn’t even own a piece of this precious valley to unite the landowners once again behind a proper effort to safeguard the area: Shaun Vorster, the manager of the Greenfire Drakensberg Inn.

Shaun managed to wrangle all the landowners into a room and got us to commit to something bigger than ourselves.

Conservations Outcomes, a company of conservationists and ecologists, was brought in to do the leg work and managed to secure funding from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) so that almost all the expenses related to establishing the new entity were covered.

Once it was established that these properties hold immense value in the form of irreplaceable grasslands and soil that has never been turned, WWF jumped in to help us keep these carbon sinks intact.

With the guidance of Conservations Outcomes, a steering committee was established with our own Loretta Mecklenborg and Jean Carte playing pivotal roles in getting all the documents signed and submitted by the various stakeholders.

It was with a surge of joyous relief that we celebrated the official gazetting of our Nature Reserve on Earth Day 2024.

Why is the NDNR a good thing?

The Northern Drakensberg is hugely significant from a conservation perspective for several reasons.

Besides the breathtaking natural beauty and exceptional biological diversity of species and habitats, it also constitutes the principal water production area in southern Africa and is thus crucial to supporting both the people and the economy of the sub-continent.

The establishment of the nature reserve ensures that a significant portion of this mountain catchment area is conserved and managed to ensure the sustained production of high-quality water.

As the pressure of human development increases, the importance of pristine environments becomes more marked – not only as “water factories” and carbon sinkers but also as playgrounds and retreats.

Declaring this area as a nature reserve means the protection of the undeveloped parts of our properties will remain in place, even if the property changes hands. Thus we are creating a safeguard that will outlive ourselves.

The physical position of the NDNR makes it an ideal corridor for the naturally occurring game to graze and roam between the Sterkfontein Nature Reserve in the north and Royal Natal National Park to the south.

The Royal Natal Park forms part of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage site.

Our “small” 6,500 hectares becomes something very significant when combined with the 18,000 hectares of Sterkfontein and the 8,100 hectares of Royal Natal!

The establishment of the nature reserve creates opportunities for sustainable and collaborative management of the area, which supports the socio-economic benefits provided by tourism, farming and conservation efforts.

This initiative is a beautiful expression of the infinite connectedness that we are all a part of.

In order to thrive as individuals, everything surrounding us needs to thrive too – our natural environment and our people.

We feel immeasurably blessed to be a part of this journey.

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