Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Dinokeng's exceptional biodiversity threatened by unscrupulous sand miners

Photos 1 & 2: Broken rehabilitation promises: The Seringveld has been defiled by unsustainable sand mining, with as much of 10% of it permanently scarred when it was unscrupulously stripped to its very bedrock, then not rehabilitated.


Photo 3: I've been doing a lot of work for the 240 000 hectare Dinokeng geo-spatial destination to the north-east of Gauteng. My pleasure has been getting to know the passionate, concerned folk of the Serringveld Conservancy, in particular its chairman, Jan Visser and Eugene Fourie. They have given generously of themselves, their time, their wisdom... they are kind and kindred souls.


"When you tug on a single thing in nature, you find it attached to the rest of the world." – John Muir


Curbing the environmental destruction caused by unchecked sand mining and containing the spread of urban housing developments are two of the most pressing issues facing Dinokeng, according to Jan Visser, chairman of the Seringveld Conservancy, Cullinan .


"The protection of the unspoiled parts of the Seringveld's excellent bio-diversity is crucial," says Visser.


The Seringveld – where Visser has lived for 19 years - is unique and is home to the indigenous Red Syringa (Burkea africana, SA tree no. 197),  not to be confused with the exotic Syringa from India and Australia (Melia azedarach).


But the Seringveld has been defiled by unsustainable sand mining, with as much of 10% of it permanently scarred.

Visser says that since 1994 concerned residents and the conservancy have been trying to get the sand miners and Department of Minerals and Energy (DME) to operate within national regulations.


"It appears that rules don't apply to them.  We've written over 40 letters to DME, DWAF and GDACE, and have also – for years already – had Mining Forum meetings which we initiated with them, but to no avail. And despite a lot of negative media coverage, the perceived illegal sand mining goes ahead," says Visser.


While sand mining started on a single farm in the 1960s and affected an area of less than one hectare, just over 40 years later almost 1500 hectares have been badly damaged. What will Dinokeng look like in another 40 years if this continues unchecked?


"While we're striving to manage the conservancy in a way that sustains its pristine and natural character as an ecotourism destination, this is challenging to do in practice as the competing claims for development and conservation are valid," Visser explains.


"We believe the challenge is not to sacrifice the one for the other, but to find a sustainable balance between conservation of this natural environment - on which, among others, tourism growth depends - and development to meet the nation's needs.


But Visser is adamant that the prerequisites and conditions of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) must be respected. Currently the miners and DME are perceived as ignoring prescribed public participation processes and the recommendations of legitimate environmental impact assessments (EIAs), among others.


"How an area that's so intensely mined ever going to be marketed as an attractive ecotourism," he asks?


Ecotourism is sustainable and has a much greater capacity to create long-term employment and alleviate poverty. Sand mining, on the other hand, provides fewer, short-term jobs, while making only a few unscrupulous fat cats immensely wealthy. It also permanently scars the landscape, because it is doubtful if any reasonable rural land use is possible in future on land as extensively mined as parts of the Seringveld.


Seringveld Conservancy is a member of the The Gauteng Conservancy Association (GCA), which was formed to promote conservation on private property in Gauteng and to protect the province's fast- disappearing greenbelt areas.


The GCA represents rural and urban conservancies ranging in size from tens of thousands of hectares to tiny areas in the province.


Conservancies deal with a multitude of problems, including illegal mining activities, dumping of refuse, overgrazing, veldfires, game poaching,  theft of plants and rocks, tree-cutting, alien vegetation - to name a few.


In spite of this, many of them have succeeded in co-operation with government to contribute to protect some of the most beautiful and sensitive regions in Gauteng.

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