2 February, 2018
Protecting our world's water factories - how the forest products sector is leading the way
are the most threatened of all South African ecosystems.
only making up 2.4% of the country's landmass, wetlands
play a big role in natural and urban areas,
- 50% of
South Africa's wetlands have been lost to human and
Wetlands Day takes place on 2 February under the theme
Wetlands for a Sustainable Urban Future.
Wetlands, dubbed ‘water
factories', are the most biologically diverse of all
ecosystems. With World Wetlands Day 2018 taking
place on 2 February, it is important to
recognise the contribution they make to human well-being and
economic growth through farming, fishing, tourism and water
provision, and how they are being protected.
According to the National Water Act, wetlands are
defined as "land which is transitional between terrestrial
and aquatic systems where the water table is at or near the
surface, or the land is periodically covered with shallow
water, or would support vegetation typically adapted to life
in water saturated soils".
By linking land and water bodies, wetlands protect
coastlines, prevent flooding, filter pollutants and act as
giant sponges - soaking up rainwater and releasing it slowly
over time. This makes them one of the most important
freshwater storage systems on Earth. Wetlands also store
carbon dioxide (between 10 and 20 times faster than terrestrial ecosystems), thus slowing the impact of climate change.
Looking after the world's water factories
"Sadly, 50% of South
Africa's wetlands have been lost as a result of human and
urban impact, and only a fraction of those that remain are
being conserved," says Jane Molony, president
of the International Council of Forest and
Paper Associations (ICFPA) and executive director of the
Paper Manufacturers Association of
South Africa (PAMSA).
"For decades, the
forestry and forest product sector has been working alongside
scientists and conservationists to rehabilitate and conserve
wetlands on forestry-owned land."
"Tissue, tables, pencils, paper and cellulose come
from farmed trees. Without these products, our urban lives
would be less than ideal," says Molony. "While it meets these
needs, the industry regards looking after the land on which
trees are farmed as a business, social and environmental
As timber plantations
share land with wetlands and grasslands, environmentally sound
plantation design and management is crucial to effective water
stewardship. Such efforts include conserving freshwater
ecosystems, like wetlands, rivers and banks, all of which serve as vital habitats for freshwater plant, animal, insect
bird, and aquatic species.
"More than 28,000
hectares of wetland have already been identified on
forestry-owned land," says Michael Peter, executive director
of Forestry South Africa.
"Among our wetland conservation efforts are the
removal alien and invasive plant species and where necessary,
our trees," he says, pointing out that forestry companies
continually reduce their plantation areas in riverine and
other ecologically-sensitive areas.
A number of flagship
programmes are managed by forestry, paper and packaging
companies, among them Mondi and Sappi.
Mondi Wetlands Programme celebrates 26 years
Mondi owns and leases about
250,000 hectares, including 20,000 hectares of wetland. The
company has been a steadfast funder of the World Wildlife Fund-Mondi Wetlands
marked its 26th anniversary in 2017. As one of the country's
longest-running, privately-funded conservation programmes, it
has helped move wetlands to the top of conservation agendas,
especially for the forestry, sugar and dairy industries. It
has also pioneeered the way wetlands are identified, restored
and protected across sectors, in South Africa and beyond.
Sappi's efforts yield success for
Shafton/Kusane wetland in the Karkloof catchment
The Karkloof catchment in KwaZulu-Natal consists of highly
productive agricultural land. Not only is the area rich in
wetlands, it serves as a water catchment for the greater
Durban and Pietermaritzburg areas. Intense land use over the
years makes the protection of the area and its rich
biodiversity extremely important.
Sappi owns and manages
approximately 170 hectares of a large floodplain where the
Karkloof, Kusane, and Mnalweni rivers meet. One particular
wetland - the Shafton/Kusane wetland in the upper Umgeni
catchment area - has been assessed and is in good health owing
to rehabilitation efforts undertaken by Sappi. The company is
exploring further opportunities to improve the ecosystem's
functionality still further through weed and bramble control
and the preventing of encroachment by poplar, wattle, pine and
We are all
Wetlands, just like
working forests, absorb excess carbon dioxide, and provide
clean air, water and climate regulation. It's up to each of us
to be stewards of our environment.
"On this World
Wetlands Day we encourage you to work together in your
communities to ensure that those marshy places that you didn't
think were important are rehabilitated and kept clear of
invasive vegetation and litter," states Molony.
For more information