The Sneeuwberg Protected Environment (SPE) has become the first area in the Free State to be declared protected.

The 17 456-hectare area, near the north-eastern Free State village of Memel, is well known for its natural beauty, diversity of species and significance as a water source area. Mark Anderson, CEO of BirdLife South Africa said: “The Sneeuwberg Protected Environment is another success story for our birds, grasslands and water resources, providing the springboard for future protected area declarations of this nature in the Free State.”

“I commend the Free State provincial government, landowners and our partners for reaching this significant milestone,” said Dr Morné Du Plessis, CEO of WWF South Africa.

A ‘protected environment’ offers the next most secure form of protection after a nature reserve. Protected environments require a management plan encompassing issues like veld management and wetland protection, while still allowing residents to make a living off the land through activities such as livestock farming and tourism.

WWF South Africa, BirdLife South Africa, the Department of Economic, Small Business Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs in the Free State and 12 landowners came together in 2012 to develop a conservation plan for the valuable biodiversity within the focal area. The overall plan is to build on the success of the SPE and establish additional private protected areas that are critical to biodiversity and as water source areas in other parts of the Free State. – Tourism updates.