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Conservation

White-winged Flufftail

​​The White-winged Flufftail was one of the major reasons for the formation of the Ingula Partnership, hand-in-hand with which was the purchase of 8 000 hectares of farmland for the creation of a protected area. The core of this area is the Bedford Chatsworth Wetland and, as one of the nine sites in South Africa that the fufftail is known to visit, its conservation is critical for the bird’s survival.
 
There is still much to learn about the elusive White-winged Flufftail. It breeds in Ethiopia, visits South Africa and is classified as ‘Critically Endangered’ in the Eskom Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.
 
As a wetland species, the flufftail’s habitat is severely threatened by continued habitat destruction, especially from afforestation, dam construction, draining and poor agricultural practices. The proclamation of the Ingula property as a nature reserve under the Protected Areas Act will ensure the long-term protection and management of this vital wetland.
 
The Ingula partnership has enabled Middelpunt Wetland Trust to undertake two workshops, one in South Africa and one in Ethiopia, to prepare Species Action Plans for the White-winged Flufftail.
 

Southern Bald Ibis

The Southern Bald Ibis is listed as nationally Vulnerable and is a near-endemic to the South African grasslands, where habitat loss is known as the main threat. The Ingula Partnership supports a BirdLife South Africa national programme to study the Southern Bald Ibis.
 
The low breeding success of the population of birds at Ingula is largely based on unsuitable nesting ledges where the Ingula colony nests year after year. The total number of individuals roosting has remained fairly constant throughout, indicating that the few fledged chicks move away from the study area, or that birds moving away are replaced by others moving to Ingula from surrounding areas. Satellite telemetry at Ingula of a few individuals should contribute to filling a knowledge gap on the population dynamics of these birds.
 
Furthermore, the construction of artificial nesting ledges (Figure 2) at Ingula, built to accommodate the birds when the upper Bedfordspruit nest sites are inundated with water for the dam, presents an opportunity to evaluate whether or not the birds will make use of them and thus the feasibility of such a practice elsewhere. Information has been collected from colony monitoring, winter roost surveys and breeding surveys across the distribution of the species in the grasslands. Many of the birds, which belong to intermediate-sized colonies, are not returning to the same roosting sites that they used during the winter of 2009. However, this does not point towards a decrease in numbers but rather a change in preference of roosting sites, making it difficult to locate new roosting sites.
 
During the upcoming breeding season, a number of chicks will be ringed and blood samples taken to be analysed in genetic and toxicological studies. The possibility of fitting radio transmitters to a relatively small number of birds is currently being investigated. Such a project should be feasible and will provide important baseline data on the movement of Southern Bald Ibises.


 

Ingula Fish Hybridisation Study

Eskom met with EKZNW in March 2010 to discuss the RoD condition as relevant to the prevention of fish hybridisation; i.e. that Eskom will mitigate against a potential inter-basin transfer of fish between the separate Vaal and Thukela catchments. Eskom had previously undertaken a number of studies to assess if there was potential for similar fish species and subspecies to breed and, if so, would electrical and physical barriers created within the pumped storage scheme be technically feasible and sufficient to control the movement of fish. The potential ability of the fish to breed and hybridise was proved correct, whilst the utilisation of electrical and physical barriers was shown to be not feasible to prevent fish transfer.
 
Further studies were then required to assess if the pressures to which the fish would be subjected as they moved between dams in the scheme would result in fish mortality. The study showed that the pressure created by the scheme is not a factor to influence fish mortality. Further discussion with the provincial authorities and the Department of Environmental Affairs will take place to produce a suitable mitigation measure that will be used by Eskom in the scheme if deemed necessary.

Geo-hydrological and Peat Study

Concerns were raised with regards to the construction of the dams and what impact construction would have on ground and surface water flow, as well as what the implications of that would be on peat present in the wetlands. A study was initiated to understand the implications of construction in greater detail. A geophysical survey, a peat survey and a peat profile analysis have been completed thus far on the project, as well as consistent monitoring. The interim results showed that construction had not significantly impacted the groundwater resource and discharge to the wetland. Core drilling for groundwater monitoring along selected transects has occurred to further support this.
 
The installation of piesometers for monitoring has also occurred, improving the quality of data obtained. Transects across the wetland’s main channel and tributaries were surveyed which will allow for a more resolute analysis of the associated impacts on the wetland and groundwater systems.
 
Further ad hoc sampling of wet season isotopes, the monitoring of peat hydraulic characteristics and the compilation of a wetland function model will be completed during the course of the project. This information will be valuable in adding to existing baseline data to allow for a better understanding of monitoring into the future.

Archaeology

The area in which Ingula is being constructed is rich in archaeological heritage. Initially, The Ingula Partnership guided the process for the excavation of a number of fossils and this was later taken further by the construction teams on site.
 
The National Museum at Bloemfontein was tasked in the preparation and analysis of fossils that were recovered from the Ingula Pumped Storage Scheme site. The fossils uncovered thus far include 4 Gorgonopsid fossils, 25 Dicynodon lacerticeps and 11 Lystrosaurus. Work is still being conducted on material received and the analysis is due to be presented in early 2012.

Future Invertebrate Study

The lack of an invertebrate study at Ingula was identified as a gap in the baseline information and a scope of works to undertake the study was drafted. It was recommended at the IACC that the avenue of utilising universities to undergo this particular baseline research project at Ingula be explored.
 
Based on ad hoc surveys, it is anticipated that this baseline study will show that a number of red data insect species will be identified on site. This will add value to the conservation importance of the Ingula land.

Future Veld Condition and Carbon Value Study

A veld condition study has been commissioned and this will look at determining the carbon value of the land, as well as give an indication of the productivity of the land to support wildlife and domestic animals on site.