Gareth Boothway, Manager of the Midlands Conservancies Forum (MCF) Biodiversity Stewardship Project, visited Mhlopeni Nature Reserve recently. It falls right in the middle of the important Tugela North Macro Ecological Corridor and obviously, in the Maputoland-Pondoland-Albany Centre of Endemism which the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund is assisting MCF (and others) to conserve.
Mhlopeni Nature Reserve, situated 3kms from Muden on the Muden-Greytown road, is over 800 hectares in size and is particularly important for biodiversity conservation as it contains pristine Thukela Valley Bushveld with patches of Highland sourveld grassland.
Although called a Nature Reserve it is still not proclaimed as a Nature Reserve in terms of NEMA. We hope to assist the landowner to proclaim it using the KZN Biodiversity Stewardship mechanisms. We do need to resolve some issues though, such as dealing with a land claim on approximately half of the property.
The diversity of butterflies is quite incredible with over 100 species found there, including Africa’s smallest butterfly. The grassland areas on the plateau support a few Oribi and Ground Hornbills are known to nest on the reserve. Over 200 bird species have been spotted in the Reserve.
Besides biodiversity, the site is rich in archaeological sites with several iron-age sites. One can easily spot these sites by looking for patches of vegetation that look different (fewer hardwoods) due to extensive harvesting of trees for smelting iron from rock. These areas can be seen from higher viewpoints in the reserve.
This was confirmed when our guide, Richard, who pointed out mini craters in the sandstone which as he explained were the remnants of tubes of sea dwelling bivalves from when the area was still under sea.
Richard and Joy Alcock who manage (also trustees of the board) the property are both in their 70’s and work alone. With no staff to assist them they are responsible for conservation and operational management – a hard working couple indeed!
Have a look at their web site: http://mhlopeni.co.za/