Mpumalanga Wetlands Forum hosts event at Verloren Valei.
World Wetlands Day is celebrated worldwide each year on 2 February to raise awareness about wetlands and the important environmental role they play. The theme for 2023 is “It’s time for Wetland Restoration”.
The date marks the anniversary of the adoption on 2 February 1971 of the Convention on Wetlands (known as the Ramsar Convention after the city in which it was signed). The Ramsar Convention came into being to raise awareness about the urgency of reversing the loss of wetlands, and to promote the conservation and restoration of these important water resources.
The Mpumalanga Wetland Forum’s annual wetland celebration was held this year at the Verloren Valei Nature Reserve on Friday 3 February. Situated 15 kilometres north of Dullstroom, Verloren Valei is 6 000 hectares in extent. Despite its relatively small size, it is Mpumalanga’s only Ramsar site providing protection for more than 150 wetlands, as well as numerous rare and endangered species of fauna and flora. Four rivers rise in the reserve.
Wetlands play a vital role in removing toxic substances and sediment from water, while also improving downstream water quality and the overall health of communities.
They are also an important habitat for several breeding bird species. Migratory waterfowl also use wetlands as resting places, feeding grounds, breeding grounds, and nesting grounds. If wetland habitat is lost, some bird species that use the area will become extinct.
These wetlands in this area do not only play an important role in our ecosystem, but can also create much-needed job opportunities through the tourism sector and rehabilitation projects, such as the Working for Wetlands projects. (Working for Wetlands 2021). (20 Years of Wetland Restoration in South Africa, DFFE)
The Mpumalanga Wetland Forum decided to structure the event as an opportunity to take young people into the field to experience wetlands first hand. Forty Grade 7 learners from the Mpilonhle Primary School in Dullstroom were invited to participate.
André Beetge from the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment welcomed everybody and informed the learners why World Wetlands Day is celebrated. Verloren Valei’s Manager, Patrick Serakwana, and Balungile Bhengu, Cluster Manager of the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency, provided an introduction to the reserve itself, and why it is so important.
Brochures kindly sponsored by the South African National Biodiversity Institute were handed out, along with water bottled at Verloren Valei.
The learners were then taken into the field to learn more about wetlands. Hannes Marais, Chairperson of the Mpumalanga Wetland Forum, showed the learners different wetland types, and some of the plants that occur in wetlands on Verloren Valei. Amu Nkuna from Working for Wetlands then explained different methods used to restore wetlands.
Thereafter, Bradley Gibbons of the Endangered Wildlife Trust spoke about the importance of conserving wetlands to protect endangered species.
Gerrit van Ede, Chair of the Friends of Verloren Valei, then took the learners on a walk to see some of the many species of wildflowers that occur in the reserve’s wetlands.
The day ended with food and drinks sponsored by Millstream Farm.
The Mpumalanga Wetland Forum thanks all who helped make this day a success—protecting our wetlands into the future is dependent on teaching a new generation about their value. Special thanks to Patrick Serakwana and the reserve staff of Verloren Valei, as well as Thangasi Environmental Services for arranging the learners and sponsoring the transport.
Because of its environmental importance and fragility, Verloren Valei is a closed reserve. To book a visit, contact Patrick Serakwana on 066 0082292 or 078 5500489 (What’s App). The Friends of Verloren Valei arrange guided field trips periodically during the year, contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website (https://verlorenvalei.org.za/)