NE Cape grasslands Credit Greg Martindale

Work is underway by SANParks and WWF to establish a high-altitude national park in the mountains of the Eastern Cape close to the Lesotho border and the spectacular Naude’s Nek pass – South Africa’s highest lying road at over 2500m. The establishment of this national park will mark a new and innovative approach to protected area expansion as it will be located within a working agricultural landscape. Not only is this area rich in biodiversity and endemic species, but it also lies within the Eastern Cape Drakensberg Strategic Water Source Area which is a natural source of freshwater for people downstream. When declared the park will also improve formal protection of South Africa’s grasslands which have been identified as a national conservation priority.

The proposed NE Cape Grasslands National Park will take a somewhat different form to traditional parks, in that the landowners will have the opportunity, through stewardship, to incorporate their land in the park on a voluntary basis. As such, they also stand to benefit from a range of financial incentives for private and communal land that is formally protected. The project aims to raise significant government funding for the restoration and maintenance of the landscape for water security, bringing much-needed employment opportunities to the area through alien plant clearing and wetland restoration. Furthermore, because of its rugged, unspoilt landscape, the area has rich potential for adventure and cultural tourism which could help to build an all-year-round tourism industry, further unlocking potential jobs. The declaration of a national park will also be a motivation for the inclusion of this area into the adjacent Drakensberg World Heritage Site.

There is incredible excitement about the project, which has a range of collaborators and funders, including the national Department of Environmental Affairs, the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency, Joe Gqabi District Municipality, and the WWF Nedbank Green Trust.

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Thembanani Nsibande, NE Grasslands National Park project coordinator stands high above a backdrop of green rolling mountains