- A British company wants to mine coal in the heart of one of South Africa' most ecologically sensitive natural environments, the Wakkerstroom-Luneburg area of Mpumalanga province, environmentalists warn today.
Conservationists said they 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 in Mpumalanga province, east of Pretoria, would destroy habitats used by over 300 bird species including South Africa's national bird, the Blue Crane, which is listed as "vulnerable".
Wakkerstroom's high altitude grasslands host more than 300 species of bird and more than 100 endemic plants. More than 80 percent of bird-watching trips in South Africa include Wakkerstroom in their schedule. Around 85 percent of the world population of Rudd's Lark, also a "vulnerable" species, lives on the Wakkerstroom, where Bush Blackcap and Yellow-breasted Pipit also thrive, environmentalists warn.
According to the environmentalist organisation BirdLife South Africa, "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," the group warns in a statement issued today.
The environmentalist group has now 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," they hold.
However, the application is being opposed, by both Delta Mining and the South African government's Department of Minerals and Energy.
Delta Mining was awarded prospecting rights for the Wakkerstroom-Luneburg area in August and November 2007 flouting sections from the National Environmental Management Act. The act demands consultation with interested and affected parties, "which in this case includes landowners and environment groups, such as BirdLife South Africa, WWF–South Africa and the Ekangala Grasslands Trust," the group holds.
"The South African government must show it values our biodiversity and the livelihoods of people who benefit from ecotourism by immediately assisting in the formal protection of this area," said Carolyn Ah Shene of BirdLife South Africa. "Formal protection will ensure that this area becomes a NO–GO for any activity that will threaten this region and the environmentally-sustainable activities linked to it," she warned.
Delta Mining claims in its Environmental Management Plan that there are "no threatened species on the site." This is denied by BirdLife, holding that "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."
"We have absolutely no confidence in the company’s promises of environmental safeguards," added Ms Ah Shene. "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," she warned.
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