A British company wants to mine coal in the heart of one of South Africa’ most ecologically sensitive natural environments. Conservationists believe the prospecting rights obtained by Delta Mining, which is now majority owned by London Mining plc, is illegal and poses one of the most serious threats to the country’s natural heritage for decades.
The extraction of coal from almost 200 km2 of the Wakkerstroom / Luneburg region, a vast area of wetlands and grassland east of Pretoria, would destroy habitats used by over 300 bird species including South Africa’s national bird, Blue Crane Grus paradisea (Vulnerable).
More than 85% of the world’s Rudd's Lark Heteromirafra ruddi (Vulnerable) live on the Wakkerstroom where Bush Blackcap Lioptilus nigricapillus and Yellow-breasted Pipit Anthus chloris (Vulnerable) also thrive. Thousands of jobs could be lost if the development went ahead. The sources of four major rivers are found in the region and all could be heavily polluted by mining operations.
BirdLife South Africa supported by the RSPB has applied to the South African High Court for a judicial review of Delta’s prospecting rights in the Wakkerstroom / Luneburg region. These prospecting rights were obtained without proper consultation with affected landowners and without adequately taking the severe conservation impact of mining into consideration. The application is being opposed, by both Delta Mining and the South African Government’s Department of Minerals and Energy.
Wakkerstroom’s high altitude grasslands host more than 300 species of bird and more than 100 endemic plants, and more than 80% of bird-watching trips in South Africa include Wakkerstroom in their schedule. Among sites threatened by the prospecting is the Pongola Forest Reserve, which is a formally protected area and forms part of the Eastern Grasslands region. Delta Mining claims in its Environmental Management Plan that there are “no threatened species on the site”, yet 13 of the country’s endemic bird species are found only in this grassland region and this area was designated an Important Bird Area by BirdLife South Africa in 2001.
Carolyn Ah Shene said: “We have absolutely no confidence in the company’s promises of environmental safeguards. It has blatantly ignored the legal requirements for environmental impact studies so far, suggesting it has no regard for the impact of its proposed development on the region’s natural environment. Thousands of people who depend on farming and tourism in the region will lose their jobs if mining goes ahead”.
“This is one of the biggest threats to South Africa’s wildlife to emerge for decades”, said Paul Buckley, RSPB Africa Specialist. Wakkerstroom is known worldwide as a biodiversity hotspot and has long been a unique environmental showcase for South Africa”.
“British companies are improving their environmental records and we expect Delta Mining and London Mining to be equally responsible. They must go back to the drawing board, recognise the global importance of these grasslands and its biodiversity and undertake the required consultations legally required in South Africa. Those earning a living from showcasing Wakkerstroom’s rich natural environment expect nothing less”.