Mission: Identify Wetland Habitats Suitable for Rehabilitation
Date: 28 June 2008
Requesting organisation: Working for Wetlands
Location: Bushbuckridge, Limpopo
Pilot: Hill van Schalkwyk
One of our newest pilot members, Hill van Schalkwyk, volunteered to fly Craig Cowden and Anton Bothma to survey wetland habitat associated with the Sand River near Bushbuckridge in Limpopo. The photograph above shows the survey team, comprising (from the left): Hill van Schalkwyk – Bateleurs pilot, Craig Cowden – Area Manager for LRI, and Anton Bothma – the Project Implementor of the Eastern Wetland Rehabilitation project. The flight took place from Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport at the end of June, and this is the enthusiastic report from Hill:
“Flying my first mission for The Bateleurs was one of my flying highlights! It is possible that I over-planned the whole mission as Craig Cowden, the Area Manager, was calm and collected and knew exactly what needed to be done. He was familiar with the terrain and knew the area well from the air. We were accompanied by Anton Bothma who is responsible for the implementation of wetland rehabilitation in that area. He too knew the area well, and all their knowledge made my task of flying so much easier. We met at Kruger Mpumalanga airport which is an hour’s flight from my home base in Polokwane/Pietersburg. The day started slightly later than expected due to the poor visibility in the early morning and the heavy smog all the way to Nelspruit. When I was planning the operation I realised that the weather would have the final say, but in the end it turned out to be a brilliant flying day.
We departed Kruger Mpumalanga at 099h15 and arrived at our “site” – the Save the Sand project – 20 minutes later. All the points that I had carefully marked on my GPS were spotted in a flash by the two professionals. They discussed issues that did not make much sense to me, but obviously knew exactly what they were looking for. The stable weather made it possible to fly low and slow – very safely!
The area near Bushbuckridge is clearly seriously damaged as a result of erosion and it was heartwarming for an outsider to learn about the interventions being planned to save the wetlands. Unfortunately, as per anecdotes related by my passengers, some of the structures put in place to save the wetlands occasionally end up as walls in houses, or even as chicken pens!”
The escarpment near Mariepskop
“For me one of the highlights of the day came when we had to fly to the top of Mariepskop where the old radar station was built in the 1950s. It was launched to establish a chain of radar stations along the border of the then Transvaal in order to protect the Witwatersrand area from possible aerial attack. On the eastern side of the Drakensberg escarpment, facing away from the Blyde River Canyon, is the Mariepskop complex, a mountain enclave and centre of endemism of unsurpassed beauty. Mariepskop is the highest peak in the northern Drakensberg and from 1,945m above sea level, on a clear day, you can see the Indian Ocean and Maputo.
We returned by flying down a ravine back to the Lowveld and then straight on to Kruger Mpumalanga International.
Thanks a lot for the opportunity!”
Save the Sand surveyed by Craig Cowden
This photo illustrates several large erosion gullies in the centre of the picture.
And here are extracts from the report of this same flight, from Craig Cowden:
“The flight was carried out from the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport by Hill van Schalkwyk. This was Hill’s first flight for The Bateleurs, but he was more than capable of adjusting to the demanding requirements of the Working for Wetlands project team’s requests to “turn right – NOW”.
Nine wetland sites were identified with the project area, of which seven were prioritised as having ‘moderate’ to ‘high’ potential for rehabilitation. The majority of the problems associated with the wetlands related to headcut and gully erosion. Unfortunately, the wetelands within the project area have been severely impacted upon by over-grazing and erosion, with the majority of the valleys being seen as ‘lost causes’. Due to the small size of the catchment the team was able also to fly over the Mariepskop Nature Reserve, identified as an area with potential for rehabilitation, in addition to the X32A quaternary catchment.
As a whole the flight was highly effective in reducing the otherwise difficult and lengthy process of identifying problems by vehicle or on foot, as well as eliminating the need t identify and contact landowners (to request permission to enter onto their land) within the project areas.”
The sixth and final flight for Working for Wetlands in 2008 will be presented in our next Newsletter.