“Our grasslands need a champion,” says Mercia Komen of Doornrandje. She is particularly passionate about the grasslands that cover Hills and Dales and Doornrandje. And with reason. The RNC has only recently become aware of the specific significance of the grasslands that cover this part of the RNC - the endangered Egoli Granite Grassland (EGG).
“Most of us have grown up thinking that grass is grass is grass and that it’s really trees that are important. Yet it’s grasslands that support the greatest biodiversity in South Africa, outside of the Cape fynbos region - and it is grasslands that are the second most endangered vegetation type in South Africa.”
The significance of these grasslands has been brought home by the recent transfer of 300 hectares of EGG in Doornrandje to the Gauteng conservation authority. This property was purchased by a developer in Midrand as an offset* and transferred to the Gauteng Government for permanent protection. It will ultimately be proclaimed a nature reserve.
“The extraordinary thing is, this grassland type is found only in this western part of Gauteng, stretching north from Roodepoort, and nowhere else in the world,” says Mercia. “The bulk of it has already made way for development; this 300ha is the largest conserved piece of EGG that exists.” Mercia represents the RNC on the Gauteng department of environment’s ‘EGG commitee’.
For Anthony Duigan, a member of the RNC Committee, this is the realisation of a 22-year dream. “When we started the Kareebosrand Conservancy (forerunner to the RNC) in 1987, we had a strong but undefined idea of somehow protecting this unique area,” he said. “Now, for the first time, authorities have realised that our area offers something that is both unique and valuable enough to be conserved.”
Fire! The word that sets the adrenaline going and hearts beating faster. This year has seen the usual runaway fires that sweep across the grasslands and bushveld. But the community is rarely lacking in response. About 40 people responded to the recent fire that someone unknown started on the north-eastern corner of the EGG land.
It quickly swept south, jumping firebreaks and by the time it was doused, had consumed about 200 hectares. A few homesteads had narrow escapes and the efforts of the community fire-fighters saved most of the EGG land at least.
“The Gauteng conservation unit responsible for the EGG land started burning their fire-breaks before winter,” said Mercia Komen, whose property borders this land. “But, as we have learned by bitter experience, runaway fires don’t wait for firebreaks to be completed.”
As always, fires throw up cameos of community life. Among the fire-fighters were Wayde and Travis Hampson and Gareth and Ryan Kruger, their ages ranging from six to nine. Kids in the Conservancy grow up learning that fighting veld fires is not for sissies and is not a game. They also learn how to use fire beaters and wet sacks, how to watch out when the wind changes and how to backburn from firebreaks. This is where stewardship begins – being part of a community and taking responsibility for the place where they live.
*An offset happens when a developer in another area is responsible for transforming grassland, and as part of the issuing of permission to develop, is required to purchase an equivalent portion in an area like the RNC where the grassland will be protected.