The Blyde river is a major contributor to the volume and quality of Kruger’s water via the Olifants river into which it flows to below the canyon. Many ecologists feel that, were it not for the Blyde, little or no water would reach Mozambique via the Olifants in times of drought.
The Blyde contributes 65% of the fish diversity in the area.
The riparian forest along the Blyde river, above its Olifants confluence, is classified as Lowveld Riparian Forest, forming one of the smallest forest types recognised within South Africa. With its afromontane setting and unique biodiversity, it is presently the subject of a RAMSAR application for designation as an internationally critical wetland.
The Blyde river is classified as one of the few ‘A’ rivers in the country, which means that it is considered to be close to a ‘pristine’ river. Comparable riparian forests within the eastern part of the country are mostly fragmented or transformed by alien plant invasions.
The forest along the Blyde river is extensively developed within the last few kilometres above its confluence with the Olifants River. This fragile area is only around 100 hectares in extent. The Lowveld Riparian Forest creates an important habitat and refuge for specialised fauna and flora such as the vulnerable Pel’s fishing owl whose habitat is dwindling rapidly.
This Blyde river section which exclusively contains the Lowveld Riparian Forest is also an important refuge area for several fish species and several other animals which have largely disappeared from the Olifants river due loss of habitat.
Large or poorly planned development initiatives in the forested areas can eliminate the wilderness effect of this unique area by fragmenting the riparian zones and reducing available habitat. This type of disturbance will also decrease or displace the faunal component and will increase the spread of alien invasive plants.
Poorly planned development can further destabilise the riverbanks, which are already under stress due to the loss of sediments in the system as a result of the releases of sharp peaked and silt free floods from Swadini dam. The destabilisation of this river can also pose a danger to human lives and will have a negative impact on the capacity of this area to function as a refuge.
These concerns have led to the establishment of the Blyde-Olifants Conservancy, a forward thinking attempt to protect this scarce natural resource for future generations.