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South African power utility Eskom has announced that the Ingula Pumped Storage Scheme and its associated land has been formally declared as a nature reserve.

The Ingula Nature Reserve is Eskom’s third nature reserve following the Koeberg Nature Reserve and the Majuba Nature Reserve, all declared in terms of the National Environmental Management Protected Areas Act, Act 57 of 2003.

The utility explained that the Ingula Pumped Storage Scheme, located in both the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal provinces, is in operation to meet the demand for South Africa’s peaking electricity generating capacity.

During the environmental impact assessment process in 1999, it was identified that the site selected for proposed construction housed many threatened species, including the critically endangered bird species, the White-Winged Flufftail and an extensive wetland of over 2500 hectares. This discovery led some NGOs to call for the scrapping of the plans to build the Ingula Pumped Storage Scheme in this area.

Following closer investigation by all parties, it was identified that the habitat occupied by a number of the threatened species, would not be affected by the construction of the dams, plant and associated infrastructure.

Eskom then entered into negotiations with the opposing NGOs, BirdLife South Africa and Middelpunt Wetland Trust, and there was a realisation that the environment as a whole would stand to gain more if Eskom and the NGOs were to work together on driving the environmental aspects of the project. Eskom, BirdLife South Africa and Middelpunt Wetland Trust thus proposed to go into formal Partnership together to drive the considerations of the environmental authorisation and the Ingula Partnership was formed in 2003.

The Ingula Pumped Storage Scheme has been built in the High Altitude Grassland ecosystem, a severely threatened system in South Africa with less than 2% under any formal protection.

The area has over 350 bird species, three of which are critically endangered and there is also an abundance of other wildlife including the threatened Oribi, Grey Rhebok and Steenbok, making the site an incredibly vital biodiversity area for conservation.

In addition, the area is on the continental watershed and is of significant importance as a source of water for the Highveld, with over 2500 hectares of wetlands that supply, filtrate and clean the water throughout the year, further emphasizing the importance of Ingula, beyond just a power station.

Through the efforts of the Ingula Partnership it became clear to Eskom that good management of the land would lead to more water and cleaner water being utilised in the Ingula Pumped Storage Scheme to generate electricity, whilst also contributing towards supplying valuable ecosystem services to communities.

Eskom has the responsibility to protect, manage and mitigate the impact of Eskom’s activities on the biodiversity of any land that we operate in.

This is directly in line with Eskom’s mandate towards leveraging the potential ecosystem services or benefits of that land to contribute to the South African network of conservation areas where possible.

In line with Eskom’s strategic biodiversity mandate and in consultation with the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal authorities and supported by BirdLife South Africa, Middelpunt Wetlands Trust and Conservation Outcomes, Eskom were able to declare 7637 hectares of land as the Ingula Nature Reserve.

Deidre Herbst, Eskom’s environmental manager has been involved with the Ingula property since pre-construction: “This is a very proud moment for Eskom, the declaration of the nature reserve is one of many successful milestones in the conservation of the Ingula site which demonstrate how successful partnerships can be when there is commitment from the leadership of all partners supported by the efforts of many passionate individuals on the ground.

“The Ingula conservation efforts and the partnership is an international flagship from which many other utilities around the world can learn.”

The Department of Environmental Affairs welcomes any increase in areas under formal conservation management and have been highly supportive in assisting Eskom and the provinces through the declaration process.

This declaration was a significant step for South Africa and was fully supported by Eskom’s leadership in recognition of the national role that Eskom plays towards safeguarding the environment. Eskom continues to contribute towards the protection of our natural heritage, ensuring long term conservation of South Africa’s critical biodiversity.