After nearly a decade of lobbying and sustained efforts by a small committee of dedicated environmentalists, the Magaliesberg has been declared a World Biosphere Reserve.
The announcement was made today (9 June) in Paris by the International Coordinating Council of the Programme on Man and the Biosphere (MAB). This is a Unesco programme that aims to build a supportive and sustainable relationship between people and their environments. In effect, this means a specific focus on safeguarding natural ecosystems through innovative approaches to economic development.
The World Network of Biosphere Reserves, which Magaliesberg now joins, counts 631 biosphere reserves in 119 countries.
“We are delighted with this final acknowledgement of the unique nature of the Magaliesberg and the powerful contribution it is making to our country, to the ecosystem services in Gauteng and the North West and the communities it nurtures over an extensive area,” said Paul Fatti, chair of the Magaliesberg Biosphere Initiative Group (MBIG) that has been lobbying authorities since 2007 to support the establishment of the Biosphere.
Vincent Carruthers, past chair of MBIG and renowned author of “The Magaliesberg”, the most authoritative study of the mountain range, said that this announcement was the culmination of a campaign that began in 2006.
“I’m most grateful there is now international recognition of this great mountain range that has witnessed the whole span of life, from its very origins,” he said.
Officials from South African environmental authorities were also at the MAB meeting in Paris when the announcement was made.
The Magaliesberg Biosphere Reserve, adds numerous important aspects to achieve the goal of sustainable development through conservation. The site straddles the Gauteng and North West provinces and falls within the Bushveld Bakenveld terrestrial priority area, which has been identified as a priority area for conservation action. The site is at the interface of two great African biomes, namely, the Central Grassland Plateaux and the sub-Saharan savannah with the remnants of a third biome, the Afro-montane forest.
The Magaliesberg Reserve covers approximately 360 000 ha and is located between the Pretoria and Johannesburg in the east and Rustenburg in the west, with approximately 262 000 people living within the designated area. In addition, the area is endowed with scenic beauty, unique natural features, rich cultural heritage value. It is also of high archaeological interest as it includes the Cradle of Humankind, which is part of the Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa World Heritage site with 4 million years of history. The area contains rich floral biodiversity, a number of faunal species, and over 45% of the total bird species of Southern Africa.
In its report recommending that the Magaliesberg join the exclusive club of World Biosphere Reserves, the International Advisory Committee for Biosphere Reserves, noted: “The area is endowed with scenic beauty, unique natural features, rich cultural heritage value and archaeological interest with the Cradle of Humankind, which is part of the World Heritage Site with four million years of history.”
South Africa now has eight Biosphere Reserves. Besides the Magaliesberg, the Gouritz Cluster was also declared a Biosphere Reserve by Unesco this year.
Existing Biosphere Reserves in South Africa are:
- Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve (Western Cape Province, designated 1998)
- Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve (Western Cape Province, designated 2000)
- Waterberg Biosphere Reserve (Limpopo Province, designated 2001)
- Kruger-to-Canyons Biosphere Reserve (Limpopo Province and Mpumalanga, designated 2001)
- Cape Winelands Biosphere Reserve (Western Cape Province, designated 2007)
- Vhembe Biosphere Reserve (Limpopo Province, designated May 2009).