Working for Wetlands, Mapungubwe, Mutale and Lake Fundudzi

Apr 28, 2009

Mission: Working for Wetlands projects in Mapungubwe and Mutale River
Date: 28 & 29 April 2009
Requesting organisation:
Working for Wetlands
Location: Mapungubwe and Mutale River
Pilot: Hill van Schalkwyk

The second and third missions for Working for Wetlands were flown by Bateleurs pilot Hill van Schalkwyk of Polokwane.  The Working for Wetlands team included Doug McCulloch, a wetland specialist from Land Resources International, Collin Nemadodzi from the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), and Mishack Masindi, a wetland ecologist with the Limpopo Department of Economy, Development, Environment & Tourism (LEDET).  We present the two reports from Hill van Schalkwyk below:

Mapungubwe Catchment by Hill van Schalkwyk

“Flying for Working for Wetlands in Mapungubwe and Mutale River on the 28th and 29th April was once again a privilege and a memorable experience. I used to work on farms in the Mapungubwe area that are now included in the Mapungubwe National Park. The rehabilitation of former commercial farming lands to their original natural state has been unbelievably successful.  However, irrigation [pivot] areas can still be seen and the efforts by previous landowners to keep water from wetlands out of their farm lands, and the negative effect this had on the wetlands, was clearly visible, even to the untrained eye. Doug and our two passengers discussed the future actions to reverse the process and save and restore the wetlands. It is actually unbelievable to imagine that the damage done to these wetlands were allowed and approved by the previous government! As an Agronomist it is clear to me that the area that was used for Citrus orchards should never have been farmed on. It is clear that the moisture from the wetlands could not 100% be contained by the previous land owners and it must have cost many thousands per annum to control disease e.g. Phytophtora [Root-rot] on citrus trees. Part of the wetland area was also turned into a “fish-farming” area. According to Doug this will be an exceptionally expensive exercise to reverse.
The flying was done on a calm and cloudless day. The fairly flat terrain made the flying easy and within 50 minutes the area had been covered, photographed and plotted on GPS.  Doug supplied me with excellent sequential reference points and this made the whole exercise most effective. The confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe River was a very impressive sight and we also had great views of the Soutpansberg Salt pans and Venetia mine.  After 2 hours and 30 minutes we were back in Polokwane and safe on the ground, much to the relief of my passengers as there were no One Stops or Ultra Cities en route to serve the call of nature!”

The wetlands assessment in Mutale, which was flown the very next day, was accomplished by the same team: Bateleurs pilot Hill van Schalkwyk, and wetlands specialists Doug McCulloch, Collin Nemadodzi, and Mishack Masindi

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The next day we had an early start and explored an area approximately 70 kilometres east of Mesina in the Tshipise area. The weather was absolutely perfect for low level flying. The absence of wind, cloud and thermals must be a rare occurrence for this area.  We concentrated on the Mutale River and some of its secondary systems. The high population in this area is disturbing and must put enormous pressure on the water systems. According to Doug some of the previous structures that were installed on  effective and at least still in place. It is clear that large commercial farming projects are operating under excellent management in this area, providing valuable labour opportunities to the local communities.

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We also flew over the mysterious Lake Fundudzi, a sacred lake of the Venda people that lies in the heart of the Soutpansberg and is one of the few true inland lake systems in South Africa! Should you want to visit the lake, newcomers must turn their backs on the lake and view it from between their legs!! We fortunately had a Birdseye view of the lake and what a sight it was! We unfortunately did not see the giant python and plenty crocodiles that is said to reside here!  Doug yet again supplied me with accurate reference points and we could pin point sensitive areas accurately. The mountainous terrain made the flying more demanding but extremely enjoyable. I was disappointed when Doug announced that we had completed the objective and had to return.The two days flying were really very enjoyable to me and my passengers and we shall all remember the really excellent weather and rarely viewed wonders of nature we enjoyed on those two days. I also want to thank the Bateleurs once again for the opportunity I have to be a part of this commendable effort!

Mapungubwe Catchment by Doug McCulloch

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“Mapungubwe is situated within an arid landscape where the annual rainfall rarely gets above 350mm. The rugged topography is dominated by rocky, Baobab-strewn slopes and vast Mopane woodland. Seen within this context, the wetland habitat identified represents a critical source of habitat heterogeneity for the new national park.
The flight was carried out by Hill van Schalkwyk in his Cessna C170 from the civil airfield in Polokwane. A brisk two-hour flight in perfect weather took us around the Soutpansberg mountains and over the seemingly endless bush to Mapungubwe National Park on the Limpopo River. The survey proved highly productive and yielded several potential sites for rehabilitation. The subsequent field trip yielded a substantial amount of valuable rehabilitation work, which, if all goes according to plan, will significantly enhance the biodiversity within this very valuable conservation area. The Bateleurs, through Hill, have played a major part in this effort through helping to identify the problems quickly and efficiently over a extensive area.”

Mutale Catchment by Doug McCulloch

“We could not have wished for a better day to undertake the flight. The terrain around the survey area consists of high, mist-shrouded peaks in the west, to rugged, narrow-sided valleys in the east – an undeniably breathtaking landscape. The western catchment is located to the east of the high mountains. We flew from south to north, identifying a number of heavily utilised wetland systems. Because the mountains are so rocky the only arable land is in the valley bottom wetland systems, and as a result most of the wetland habitat has been cultivated, leading to a shift in approach with respect to wetland rehabilitation – the social aspect takes over in importance from biodiversity or tourism. In many instances people are dependent on wetlands for food security, and rehabilitating and securing the habitat has a direct impact on people’s lives. The flight over the second catchment to the east of the Mutale River valley yielded much the same impacts, except that the population density was higher. Several headcuts, drains and incised gulleys were identified for later assessment. The subsequent field trip yielded a substantial amount of valuable rehabilitation work which will significantly enhance food security for people in this area.  The Bateleurs, through Hill, have played a major part in this effort through helping to identify problems quickly and efficiently, over an extensive area.”

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