This area is bounded by the main roads between the following towns: Ermelo, Amersfoort, Bethal, Hendrina and Carolina. It consists mostly of flat to undulating farmland between 1,650 and 1,832 m. In a landscape dominated by maize, several remnant patches of moist clay highveld grassland are scattered throughout the district, growing on black vertic clays. The grasslands hold several streams and pans, as well as the Willem-Brummer Dam near Ermelo. Rocky slopes, gullies and ravines favour the development of thicket, dominated by Leucosidea, Buddleja and Rhamnus. In the deeper, fire-protected gullies, secondary forest occasionally develops, with trees of Euclea, Diospyros, Myrsine and Rhus.
See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. This site holds a large proportion of the global population of Spizocorys fringillaris. The grassland areas also hold Neotis denhami, Eupodotis senegalensis, Saxicola bifasciata, Monticola explorator and Geronticus calvus. Falco naumanni, Glareola nordmanni and (less frequently) Circus macrourus can be seen quartering the grasslands. Occasionally, all of South Africa’s crane species can be found in the grasslands or cropfields within the site.
Non-bird biodiversity: Two highly localized and threatened forbs, Gladiolus robertsoniae and Nerine gracilis, are found in the remaining grassland patches within this site.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Globally, Spizocorys fringillaris has lost c.79% of its favoured grassland habitat to agriculture, primarily maize-fields. Establishing state-owned nature reserves would not necessarily enhance the conservation status of Spizocorys fringillaris, which tends to favour closely cropped grassland. Today such habitat is found on sheep farms where grazing is intense. Spizocorys fringillaris may be better off on sheep farms than in inappropriately managed protected areas. The details of this species’s ecological requirements are poorly known; determining the exact type of habitat and veld management it requires for breeding and foraging are high-priority research questions. For Spizocorys fringillaris, effective conservation is not necessarily about establishing reserves, but about ensuring that deleterious land-use practices are minimized or prevented in areas where they occur.Much of South Africa’s remaining natural grassland is farmland used for stock production. Private land-owners should be encouraged to embrace the ‘conservancy concept’, and farming practices should be directed at maintaining habitat for all species and habitats that require conservation. Continued habitat destruction through agriculture is a major cause for concern. Other threats include mining, certain fire regimes and grazing practices. Fortunately, no afforestation is permitted in the Vaal catchment, owing to the water requirements of Gauteng. Provided that this status quo remains, massive scope exists for conservation alongside agriculture in this district. Urgent research is needed concerning the landscape-level impacts of grassland fragmentation and the consequent disruption of ecosystem-level processes.
BirdLife International (2019) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Amersfoort - Bethal - Carolina District. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 16/07/2019.