The reserve centre lies 11 km due south of Impendle town, and about 50 km west of Pietermaritzburg. The terrain is undulating, steep and rocky at the highest points, and dissected by small rivers that fall over a minor escarpment as they join the Umkomaas river, which forms much of the site’s southern boundary. The site is predominantly grassland. Some of this has been lost to agriculture, but over 2,000 ha remain, mostly as highland sourveld but with some southern tall grassveld remaining. There are small stands of Protea on some of the higher rocky slopes. About 900 ha of forest is present in the reserve, and the famous ‘seven-mile-bush’ is part of this. Trees of Podocarpus and Scolopia are dominant, with Kiggelaria and Pittosporum also occurring commonly.
See Box for key species. The vlei is very good for Balearica regulorum and occasionally for Grus carunculatus. The surrounding rolling grassland holds six pairs, perhaps eight, of Hirundo atrocaerulea. Grus paradisea and Neotis denhami are also present. A flock of Geronticus calvus is often present. The forest is home to Lioptilus nigricapillus, Zoothera gurneyi, Tauraco corythaix and Serinus scotops.
Non-bird biodiversity: None known to BirdLife International.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The reserve consists of a series of farms that were first settled by colonists over 100 years ago. Most of the land was devoted to cattle-grazing, but small areas have been used for crops. The farms were purchased in the late 1970s by the government for the purpose of consolidating the old KwaZulu homeland. They have been uninhabited since 1980. The value of this Trust Land to conservation was recognized in 1983 with the proposal to formally convert the area into Impendle Nature Reserve. However, the reserve has yet to be formally proclaimed, the ownership resting with the Department of Land Affairs. It is administered by the KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Service. All the long-term objectives of the reserve have yet to be decided; one possibility is a ‘community reserve’, where controlled use of natural resources might be allowed. In the interim, limited grazing is allowed under permit. This almost certainly benefits Hirundo atrocaerulea, and is a practice that should be continued. Impendle is the only ‘conserved’ area in KwaZulu-Natal that is home to Hirundo atrocaerulea. It also holds one of the largest populations remaining in South Africa. As such, it is vital that it be formally proclaimed, with the primary objective of managing the grassland for Hirundo atrocaerulea.A vigorous plan is needed to counteract the invasion of the grassland by shrubs and non-native plants. The slow invasion by Helichrysum and Pteridium can be halted by proper use of fire, while the potentially rapid invasion by bramble Rubus, bugweed Solanum mauritianum and wattle Acacia can only be controlled mechanically and with herbicides. The problem is being addressed, and progress in weed control is being made.