Wolkberg Forest Belt

Year of compilation: 2001

Site description (baseline)
This site consists of an arc of hills and a series of forests surrounding the western rim of Tzaneen. It includes New Agatha, Mamatlhola and Serala State Forests, Wolkberg Wilderness Area and Lekgalameetse Nature Reserve to the south of the town. Baccarat, De Hoek and Woodbush Forest Reserves lie to the west and Conningsby Plantation, Broederstroom, Grootbos Reserve, Westfalia Estates and Duiwelskloof Forest to the north of Tzaneen. Seshwene Peak (1,253 m) rises to the north of Tzaneen with Vaalkrans (1,607 m) and De Hoek (1,696 m), the region’s highest peak, rising to the west of the town. The landscape consists of spectacular mountains with steep slopes, gorges and amphitheatres.Despite the region being dominated by a matrix of Eucalyptus and pine Pinus plantations, large patches of good quality Afromontane forest and small grassland patches are found scattered throughout the valleys and moist basins of the Tzaneen mountains. Forest trees of general occurrence include species of Rapanea, Xymalos, Podocarpus, Trichocladus, Rhus, Halleria, Ilex and Curtisia. Ferns such as tree-fern Cyathea, shrubs and small trees are often abundant along the forest edges. The forest patches are interspersed with grassland, wooded savanna and scrub-forest dominated by Trichilia, Combretum, Parinari, Acacia, Polystachya, Mystacidium, Protea, Faurea and Pterocarpus.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. The area holds Macheiramphus alcinus, which breeds in plantations and forest reserves, as do both Polemaetus bellicosus and Stephanoaetus coronatus. The mountain cliffs hold Falco peregrinus. This is one of very few areas in South Africa holding Telophorus multicolor, which inhabits forest and forest-edge habitats. The region’s forests are also home to Poicephalus robustus robustus, Zoothera gurneyi, Lioptilus nigricapillus, Buteo oreophilus, Tauraco corythaix, Cossypha dichroa, Cercotrichas signata, Coracina caesia, Telophorus olivaceus, Mandingoa nitidula and Serinus scotops. Some of the region’s rivers, particularly those at lower altitude, hold Podica senegalensis and Gorsachius leuconotus. Marshy and open climax grasslands hold Schoenicola brevirostris and Sarothrura affinis.

Non-bird biodiversity: The extremely rare and localized dolomite-restricted cycad Encephalartos dolomiticus, which occurs near Penge, almost certainly occurs within the site; its global range is restricted to the Wolkberg. A large population (1,000 individuals) of the slightly more widespread cycad Encephalartos transvenosus occurs in the Lekgalameetse Nature Reserve. Several other range-restricted plants occur within the site, including Euphorbia restricta, Cyrtanthus thornicroftii, Kniphofia coralligemma, Encephalartos eugene-maraisii and E. inopus, all of which are endemic to the Mpumalanga–Northern Province escarpment. The nominate subspecies of the range-restricted frog Breviceps sylvestris is endemic to the Wolkberg. Three reptile species have global ranges restricted to this IBA: Afroedura multiporis and the threatened Lygodactylus methueni (VU) are found in the forests, and Acontophiops lineatus occurs in the montane grasslands. Another species, Tetradactylus eastwoodae (EX), was endemic to this IBA, but it is thought to be extinct, as pine trees were planted throughout its remaining habitat. Mammals include Manis temminckii (LR/nt).

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The site includes Serala State Forest, which was established in 1977, and several other important forest reserves including Woodbush State Forest and De Hoek, Grootbos, Broederstroom, Baccarat, New Agatha and Mamatlhola Forest Reserves. It also includes the unprotected Duiwelskloof Forest to the north of Tzaneen, the Northern Province Nature Conservation-administered Wolkberg Wilderness Area, the Merensky Trust-owned Westfalia Estates and the Lekgalameetse Nature Reserve, which was established in 1979 and proclaimed in 1984.The region is used extensively for forestry, and plantations cover vast portions of the IBA. The dramatically reduced and highly fragmented indigenous forest that remains should be protected at all costs. The remaining indigenous forest is under considerable threat from the spread of non-native trees from surrounding plantations. Several important rivers have their sources in these mountains, including the Molototsi, Nwandi, Hlangana and Letsitele rivers, most of which eventually run into the Letaba river. The Letaba, which runs into the Kruger National Park (IBA ZA001) and neighbouring Mozambique, periodically runs dry owing to the loss of catchment water from the water-thirsty plantations. Water conservation is a high-priority issue on the escarpment, and water utilization requires intense monitoring and management.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Wolkberg Forest Belt. Downloaded from on 08/06/2023.