Matatiele Nature Reserve

Site description (2001 baseline):

Site location and context
Matatiele town is situated in the most westerly part of southern KwaZulu-Natal and is bordered in the north, west and south by the Eastern Cape. A notable feature of the landscape is the wide valley, the Cedarville Flats, which runs from east to west. The valley is flanked to the north by the Drakensberg and to the south by high-lying ground, which rises above 2,000 m. Matatiele Commonage lies due south of Matatiele town, and abuts directly onto it. Most of the site is pure grassland, transitional between highland sourveld and Cymbopogon-Themeda veld. Some of the higher ridges and spurs bear a sparse Protea woodland, and sheltered drainage lines and rocky areas, protected from fire, have scrub.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. Matatiele mountain holds some extremely interesting and rare high-altitude grassland birds. Heteromirafra ruddi is present. Anthus chloris is the commonest bird in the grasslands on top of the mountain. Other pipits occurring are Anthus brachyurus, A. crenatus and A. hoeschi. Some of the rocky gorges in the vicinity hold Bubo capensis, whilst above 2,000 m Saxicola bifasciata and Chaetops aurantius are common. Protea stands here, and on the edge on the mountain, hold Promerops gurneyi. Other species in the grasslands include Francolinus afer, Neotis denhami, Vanellus melanopterus and Circus maurus. Monticola explorator occur around rocky outcrops in the grassland. Gyps coprotheres and Gypaetus barbatus regularly fly over the mountain.

Non-bird biodiversity: None known to BirdLife International.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The commonage is municipally owned and it receives some protection, but the remainder of the area is entirely unprotected. The Matatiele area is one of the five widely separated population fragments that Heteromirafra ruddi exists in. It is the only terrestrial bird in KwaZulu-Natal that does not occur in a nature reserve. It was not seen during the Natal Atlas period (1970–1980), but must have been present, since it resurfaced when it was specifically searched for in the 1980s.The Matatiele municipality has controlled the commonage since the founding of the town. It has been used as a source of income since then, yet is protected in the sense that it has never been ploughed, cultivated or built upon. It has been modified only in that the species composition of the grassland must have altered as a result of the fairly intensive grazing regime to which it has been subjected. That this regime favours Heteromirafra ruddi must be regarded as the most fortuitous of coincidences. The balance between keeping the grass short, yet excluding unpalatable invasive forbs could easily be very fine. However, there is no immutable policy that guarantees the status quo. Indeed, there is an element in the municipality that wishes to sell the commonage, mainly to be absolved of further responsibility for it. In the present political and financial climate it is not practicable for a government-funded agency to take over the site, however logical and desirable this may appear. The best long-term plan is for Matatiele to retain its best asset, and combine leased grazing with ecotourism. The site has the qualifications for Natural Heritage Site status. This, coupled with its fine scenery, makes it an ideal nature reserve; all that is required is suitable publicity.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2024) Important Bird Area factsheet: Matatiele Nature Reserve. Downloaded from on 04/03/2024.