The Baakens River Valley is a ‘green lung’ flowing through Port Elizabeth, one of 28 priority conservation areas in Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality (NMBM). The valley conserves threatened plant, mammal and fish species, mitigates flood risk and hosts recreational and educational opportunities. This valley had been severely impacted upon by urban encroachment, alien invasive plants (AIPs), dumping, poaching, vagrants, and muggings had made the area unsafe. Community support was needed to turn this situation around.
The Baakens Valley Community Partnership (BVCP) programme, developed from 2009 to 2015, has transformed the Baakens Valley into a safe community resource and functional ecological corridor by:
- Strengthening community participation (across the economic and social spectrum, including stakeholder involvement in reserve management)
- Creating socio-economic upliftment opportunities
- Demonstrating political relevance (through job creation and protecting important recreational and tourism assets)
- Increasing environmental education activities
- Improving safety and security with a ranger programme
- Promoting public use and events (concerts, walks, sporting events)
- Encouraging voluntary community participation in caring for the Baakens Valley
The BVCP’s principal achievement has been in promoting community-based conservation, whereby the local community groups and the NMBM reserve managers have learnt how to work together to protect the Baakens Valley. A key example of this is the partnership between WESSA and the NMBM in creating and managing a cohort of five Baakens Valley Rangers. The rangers have done us proud in working with the South African Police, private security companies ADT, Atlas and I-Patrol, and the Baakens Valley Preservation Trust to bring about a significant reduction in crime in this 2000ha urban reserve; to negligible levels. The rangers have also been attributed to bringing about a 30% reduction in house break-ins along the Valley. The presence of these Rangers has boosted the public’s perception and utilisation of the Baakens Valley.
WESSA is very grateful to the Coca-Cola Fortune company for their donations for the past four years to employ, equip and train these Rangers, under their sponsorship of the Baakens Valley RiverWise Project. This project nested within the BVCP, has aimed to monitor, maintain and improve local river health and water flow, as well as to improve access to water and river amenities. Through this programme WESSA is also providing river and riverine forest ecology lessons to schools in our Eco-Schools Programme, broadening our ranger training events to include and capacitate community members and has given community co-ops opportunities to develop Alien Invasive Plant (AIP) clearing experience and expertise.