The Moutonshoek Protected Environment (MPE) is South Africa’s newest privately protected area, nestled in the mountains of the Moutonshoek Valley, near Piketberg on South Africa’s west coast. The MPE was established through the work of BirdLife South Africa’s Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) Programme, with support from CapeNature. This declaration of 9 000 hectares has helped achieve a major milestone for BirdLife South Africa, bringing the total hectares that the IBA Programme has helped declare as protected areas to 100 000 hectares.

The project not only facilitated the declaration of the Moutonshoek Protected Environment, but also assisted with the establishment of the 12 000 hectare Verlorenvlei Conservancy, which brings together landowners around the Verlorenvlei Estuary committed to improving the environmental management of this critical site.

The Verlorenvlei Protected Areas Project also facilitated the training of more than 40 local community members working on environmental management projects in the area, thereby helping to enhance their socio-economic situation, whilst simultaneously contributing to the conservation of South Africa’s natural resources.

These positive conservation outcomes were made possible by the willing and supportive private landowners in the Moutonshoek Valley. They are the real conservation heroes, ensuring their land is protected and managed sustainably into the future.

The Moutonshoek Protected Environment comprises an area of integrated land use, where agricultural production and biodiversity conservation coexist side by side. The site protects the Krom Antonies River and its catchment, which acts as the main tributary of the Verlorenvlei wetland system. The Verlorenvlei Estuary is listed as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA), Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) and a Ramsar site. The future of the Verlorenvlei Estuary and its biodiversity is dependent on the health of this upper water catchment.

The Moutonshoek Valley also provides a safe haven for a variety of species, including the Endangered and endemic Diascia caitliniae flower and the Endangered Verlorenvlei Redfin fish (Pseudobarbus verloreni), both of which occur nowhere else in the world. The site is also important for the Vulnerable Cape Leopard (Panthera pardus) and threatened birds species such as the Endangered Blue Crane (Anthropoides paradiseus), African Marsh Harrier (Circus ranivorus) and Black Harrier (Circus maurus). The MPE forms part of the Sandveld Corridor within the Greater Cederberg Biodiversity Corridor, a landscape initiative designed to connect protected areas and ensure sound environmental management.

All protected areas require a management plan, and the MPE’s management plan includes habitat management activities such as alien vegetation removal, fire control and appropriate burning, as well as river and wetland rehabilitation. However, residents are still able to continue with their economic activities of growing food and promoting ecotourism in the region.

A “protected environment” is a category of protected area declared under the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act (NEMPAA, 2003) which, after a nature reserve, offers the most secure form of protection. The declaration of protected areas on privately owned land is facilitated through the innovative national biodiversity stewardship programme. Biodiversity stewardship allows for the expansion of our protected area estate through ground-breaking legislation and multi-stakeholder partnerships.

These declarations require the support of CapeNature, which is facilitated through their longstanding partnership with BirdLife South Africa. The Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa was another integral partner on this project.

The Verlorenvlei Protected Areas Project was funded by the WWF Nedbank Green Trust. –Press release