Treasuring natural heritage
A few years ago, Hein Geldenhuys began to wonder why the grasslands weren’t among the causes formally celebrated during the year. “Every year we celebrated so many issues, raising awareness, but we live in Mpumalanga, in a grassland province. So, I decided to see if it was possible to celebrate a Grasslands Week.
“We realised though, that this had never been done before. As an environmental issue, the grasslands are a place we sometimes take for granted — but there is incredible diversity. And it needs to be protected.”
In 2013, the Mpumalanga Province declared a Provincial Grassland Week to be held annually from February 12-14. “The response was excellent: government departments, NGOs, local communities and conservation groups all came together.”
The Environmental Empower–ment Services Directorate then took a resolution to celebrate this with National Wetlands Day, an event that takes place in the same week.
Interestingly, 43% of South Africa’s wetlands are located in grassland biomes.
The team saw an opportunity, and the week was rebranded as Mpumalanga’s Twin Treasures. “It makes sense,” says Geldenhuys. “If have you healthy, vibrant grasslands, your wetland will flourish too, and vice versa.”
Since the Twin Treasures started, more than 50 environmental officers have received training and over 10 000 individuals have directly experienced the awareness programme through the environmental centres in key areas.
Part of the success of the project is due to the province’s commitment to conservation. Last year, 41 workshops were held in all 18 of Mpumalanga’s municipalities. In January, a Twin Treasure Symposium was held where a number of experts presented their work.
The symposium also offered everyone involved the opportunity to come together to discuss the biodiversity of the area and plans going forward.
Geldenhuys says that because of mining, people here are more aware of the environment. “There is a very strong environmental component in the province, with 15 centres dedicated to spreading information packs, education programmes and awareness. The audience is receptive: the people in Mpumalanga are passionate about their province and physical environment. Celebrating the environment is part of our heritage.”
Mpumalanga is the only province in the world to have ever formally honoured their grasslands and wetlands in this way.
Through branding, the teams are able to easily package and communicate the issues that affect biodiversity.
By formally acknowledging grasslands and wetlands as two of the province’s greatest assets, its vulnerable ecosystems are protected from further environmental degradation.
“When people look at grasslands they just see grass, but only one in six species is grass. Because of Twin Treasures we get to communicate this. There is so much going on there — so much relies on healthy grasslands and wetlands.”