Nylsvley Nature Reserve grows on you. I can testify this from personal
experience. After unpacking our stuff in the camp site and completing our first
“recce” drive through a part of the reserve, I was already starting to look
forward to our next wetland. But over the next few hours, after seeing the
reserve from more angles and gaining a better insight, I was slowly changing my
attitude and was more and more impressed with what we experienced.
The Nyl Floodplain is one of South Africa’s largest, and
least impacted floodplain systems, 70 km in length, 7 km at widest and, when
wholly inundated, about 16 000 ha in extent. It is located in South Africa’s
Limpopo Province and forms the headwaters of the Mogkalakwena River, one of the
Limpopo River’s larger tributaries. The floodplain stretches from south-west to
north-east across the western edge of the Springbok Flats, lying alongside the
eastern foothills of the Waterberg plateau - this plateau is the source-area
for the floodplain’s water. There are about a dozen streams and rivers that
bring water from the Waterberg onto the floodplain; the largest of these are
the Klein Nyl, the Groot Nyl and the Olifantsspruit.
Nylsvley Nature Reserve, owned and managed by the Limpopo
Provincial government, covers an area of 3,975 ha. It straddles the floodplain
and provides statuary protection for about 700 ha of the wetland due to its
status as wetland of International Importance (Ramsar), received on 7 July
1998. The remainder of the 16,000ha floodplain and all of its catchment in the
adjacent hills is on privately-owned farmland.
The areas fringing the floodplain in the Reserve consist
of a mosaic of Acacia savanna and broad-leaved woodlands. On the north-western
side of the reserve one gets a real bushveld feeling with all the Acacia and
Nylsvley Nature Reserve is one of the top birding spots
in Southern Africa, with more than 400 species recorded. It is also recognized
as one of Birdlife SA’s Important Birding Areas (IBA SA008). The floodplain
occasionally erupts with activity, holding up to 80,000 birds in years of high
rainfall. Nylsvley is particularly important for attracting large numbers of
rare and locally threatened waterbirds. In particularly wet seasons, Dwarf
Bittern, Little Bittern , Allen's Gallinule and Lesser
Moorhen are common. Most of the birds are migratory.
The reserve has a mammal list of 77 species which
includes a very successful Roan antelope breeding herd. We saw Waterbuck,
Giraffes, Blue Wildebeest, Roan, Kudu, Waterbuck, Reedbuck, Bushbuck, Impala,
Warthog, Zebra and Tsessebe.
Amphibians are well represented with 19 frog species,
including the Giant Bullfrog. No Crocodiles or Hippos are present on the
reserve which adds to its safety. Fish, dragon flies and Butterflies make up
the feast of life during wet summer months. The reserve hosts 600 plant species, including wild rice.
We visited Nylsvley Nature Reserve near the Limpopo town
of Modimolle during the end of May 2015. Two weeks earlier, there was an
accidental spillage of sulfuric acid in the upper parts of the Nyl River flood
plains, about 16 kilometers upstream of the reserve. The authorities and park
management were tense about the potential consequences to the reserve, and our
visit was definitely not their first priority at the time. The reserve was very dry with very little visible water
in the wetlands.
All of the bird hides except one (Dabchick) were burnt
down during a fire in September 2013. No resources or funds have been allocated
by the provincial government to restore these hides.
Vogelfontein on the northern side of the reserve can be
reached via gravel roads outside the reserve. A simple combination lock grants
visitors access. This is one of the best view points for game as well as
waterbirds. The Dabchick bird hide offers excellent views of the floodplains.
Herds of Roan antelope can also be seen from here.
Friends of Nylsvley is a non-governmental, private
organization that care for the reserve. It is clear that most of the activities
happening at the reserve can be credited to Friends of Nylsvley. We phoned
Marion Mengell, the driving force behind the Friends, from the reserve. She was
on her way for a winter break to the UK, but spent an enthusiastic 20 minutes
or so on the phone giving us all the information we could absorb.
The good management of Nylsvley Nature Reserve and the
long term security of water supplies for the Nyl floodplain are the Friends
primary concern. Since March 1991, the Friends were responsible for the
Dragonfly and Jacana walkways, the Dabchick and Kingfisher hides, the Bittern
Bridge, the rehabilitation long drop toilets in the campsite and the enviro loo
at Vogelfontein. They have eradicated alien plants, maintained the watering
points and developed the Nyl walking trail. When provincial funding was
limited, the Friends provided basics such as diesel, repairs to cold rooms and
equipment, supplied patrol bicycles, uniforms and boots. It was partly due to
the Friends persistence that the reserve was declared a Ramsar site in
Apart from excellent bird watching, activities inside the
reserve include hiking, cycling, and self-drive game viewing. Roads inside the
reserve are very good gravel roads which are suitable for all types of
vehicles. Sections of the reserve, mostly on the eastern side, are not
accessible for visitors.
The camp site is large with 6 spacious stands underneath
thorn trees providing ample shade. There is no electricity available, but each
stand boasts a built braai facility and water tap providing cold water. The 2
ablution facilities for men and women are small with 1 cold-water shower, 1
toilet and 1 wash basin each.
There is also a picnic area set aside for day visitors
with braai facilities and cold water ablution block.
Between the entrance gate and the reserve’s gate are a
restaurant, 3 self-catering chalets (one which is described as a VIP
Presidential Suite), and a group dormitory. All these facilities are well kept
and in immaculate condition. It also provides the facilities for all the
regular nature courses that are presented here by Friends of Nylsvley.
Like many of South Africa’s wetlands, Nylsvley Nature
Reserve is also under threat from potential mining operations. Once again, I
trust that the government will take a long term view, and if they don’t, I know
that Friends of Nylsvley will give them a hard time to reconsider.
We met Brian and Caroline Frank from a neighboring farm,
Sandfields & Forest, who were cycling through the reserve. “One of the best
kept secrets”, assures Brian me when I asked him about the cycling trails.