With this official assessment we entered the next significant phase in the process towards Nature Reserve proclamation.
The visit by these scientists on Monday and Tuesday (2 and 3 March) allowed them to record species and check the condition of the veld. They also took note of a largely intact landscape, with fewer signs of fragmentation than expected.
Extraordinary and threatened bird species were found. The Grass Owl for instance relies on the wetlands, streams and rivers - which are a critical part of our local ecosystem - for their continued survival.
In addition, the botanists were delighted by the variety of plant species. A rare plant specialist confirmed the continued (and flourishing!) presence of species at risk of extinction. These plants are placed on the Red Data List for special protection.
The information the scientists gathered, along with data already captured over years of study and monitoring, will be presented to the Biodiversity Stewardship Review Panel. This panel consists of Scientific Services of the Conservation Directorate and senior management of the province. The panel will decide if the region qualifies for “Nature Reserve” or “Protected Environment” conservation status.
The power to act
Participating landowners are aiming for Nature Reserve status. It is the category of protection that empowers landowners to do what is needed to secure in perpetuity the ecological assets on their land. Practically, it means that participating landowners can write enforceable regulations . Where needed, the police service can assist with enforcement. For instance, tackling poaching, theft of magnificent aloes, off-road sport (over precious nesting sites), setting fire to the veld, random grazing on anyone’s land by domestic animals and more. Dealing with these threats consistently and emphatically will allow landowners to protect what is precious, including the valuable ecosystem services to a much wider region, affecting many more people.
Around us the environment is deteriorating at an alarming rate. Air and water quality are plummeting, land is degrading; our environmental right is compromised daily, and often to the financial benefit of those far removed from the problems caused.
Here, in our own backyard, we can do act positively. We can conserve and protect this environment while enjoying the open space and scenic beauty.
This region has for a long time been subject to stringent environmental rules. The rules are unevenly implemented or just disregarded by some landowners. With a Nature Reserve in place, it will be possible to make the regulations work for the area. Our investment in the land and its conservation will benefit from Nature Reserve status which brings about long term certainty in land use.
The benefits include a legislated rates relaxation. This means all areas committed to formal conservation may not be charged rates. However, your private areas consisting of home, garden and any commercial use will continue to attract rates for City of Tshwane.
Another benefit is found in the Tax Act. Landowners are allowed deductions for the expense of conserving and maintaining land.
The nitty-gritty is in an explanatory memorandum by SARS (September 2014) :
“Land declared as a nature reserve … for at least 99 years …should be allowed a straight line deduction based on the actual cost of acquisition of land and improvements thereon or the lower of market value or municipal value if they exceed the cost of the land over a period of 25 years (4% allowance). This ensures equal treatment of landowners with similar land values despite different income levels so they are able to recover maintenance expenses from participating in the incentive scheme.”
Some landowners might choose to derive an income by offering controlled recreation and/or tourism facilities. Those activities will be strictly monitored to avoid an impact on the environment and to limit the scale, ensuring that everyone has “a place in the sun”. No one landowner may exceed a quota and scale determined by the size of the portion on which the activity is to take place.
Other landowners will choose to live in tranquility and natural beauty, without putting their land to work.
The vision that is offered is to ensure that this space persists, healthy and resilient as home to fauna and flora that belong here, and for the enjoyment of the people who live and work here. A by-product of that will be an investment in the future. The future sale of land inside the landowner-managed Nature Reserve will add a premium to the selling price, particularly because of the proximity to the cities.
Where will you be? If you have been biding your time, checking to see if this is actually going to happen, now is the moment to decide. Your participation is warmly welcomed. Records of participation have been asked for to prepare the report to the presiding panel. These records will be submitted on Monday 9 March.