The Upper Wilge Protected Environment
How its conservation affects you and how you can join the conversation

The proposed Upper Wilge Protected Environment, in the northeastern Free State Province (close to Van Reenen and bordering KwaZulu-Natal), covers just over 24,000 hectares (over 59,000 acres) of breathtaking natural grasslands. These grasslands provide important habitats for birds, such as all of South Africa’s crane species (Blue, Grey Crowned, and Wattled), Sungazer lizards, Bald Ibises, and Yellow-breasted Pipits. The Upper Wilge Protected Environment is also a vital area for water production for catchments such as the Vaal River system, of which the Wilge River is a tributary.

The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), in collaboration with BirdLife South Africa and the Free State Department of Economic, Small Business Development, Tourism, and Environmental Affairs, has been working extensively with landowners in the catchment to get their commitment to join forces to conserve this critical area by declaring their properties as a protected environment through biodiversity stewardship.

A protected environment is a formal declaration under the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act 57 of 2003 (NEM: PAA), whereby a landowner commits to managing their property in a manner that ensures the protection of sensitive habitat types on the farm, such as grasslands and wetlands in this case, from transformation and disturbance that threaten the resident plant and animal species.

To proceed with the declaration of the protected environment, we need as many people as possible to approve this declaration during the public participation period, which commenced in July. We are given 60 days in which the public can show their support for this initiative. We have made it easy for you to show your support by providing a simple form for you to fill in below.

With your name, surname, and email address, the form will confirm that you are voicing your support for this critical conservation project. This form will serve as an electronic letter that will be submitted to the MEC. In completing the form you consent to the EWT sharing your personal information (name and email address) as an electronic letter to the MEC.

The more support we get, the more it will help us declare the proposed Upper Wilge Protected Environment.

The EWT’s involvement with this initiative is thanks to the financial support from Rand Merchant Bank, N3TC (N3 Toll Concession), the WWF Nedbank Green Trust, and the Whitley Fund for Nature.

Letter to the MEC:

To: The MEC for the Free State Department: Economic, Small Business Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs

113 St Andrews Street
Private Bag X20801
Free State

Dear Sir

Intention to Declare the Upper Wilge Protected Environment: in Terms of the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act 2003 (Act 57 of 2003)

I hereby refer to the Free State Provincial Gazette number 93 on 12 February 2021, with the intent to declare the Upper Wilge Protected Environment.

This area, located in the northeastern Free State Province (bordering KwaZulu-Natal near Van Reenen) is over 24,000 hectares in size, and its declaration as a protected environment will benefit local biodiversity, landowners, and the broader community.

The declaration of this protected environment will ensure the protection of the habitats such as grasslands and wetlands that are largely intact, thereby securing the services they provide, such as carbon sequestration and mitigation against extreme weather events such as flooding and drought, while still allowing for sustainable use through agriculture.

The Upper Wilge Protected Environment is located in an important area for many species that are:

  • Vulnerable, such as Yellow-breasted Pipits (Anthus chloris), Sungazer lizards (Smaug giganteus), and Southern Bald Ibises (Geronticus calvus)
  • Endangered, such as Grey Crowned Cranes (Balearica regulorum), and Secretarybirds (Sagittarius serpentarius)
  • Critically Endangered, such as Wattled Cranes (Bugeranus carunculatus)

The area is also important for water production, located within a Strategic Water Source Area that provides water to the Vaal Catchment, a crucial water source for Gauteng. This area must be protected to continue providing benefits to species, habitats, and people.

I hereby show my support for the declaration of the Upper Wilge Protected Environment.


Yours sincerely

2021 © Endangered Wildlife Trust with help from the Artifact Team