Assessing the effects of grazing on vegetation cover and associated socio-economic livelihoods in the Clarens Nature Reserve in the Free State, South Africa
Sekhele, Ntebohiseng Mpho
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The presence of the Clarens nature reserve at the foothill of the mountainous Maluti is one of the treasured natural ecology of the Free State Province. A primary challenge to the ecological integrity of this small reserve is the nearby location of Kgubetswana Township, which boasts an increasing number of livestock owners. Hence, this study aims to assess the vegetation cover and socio-economic conditions associated with livestock grazing in the Clarens nature reserve. The objectives were to; i) identify vegetation cover; ii) assess the community' perception of environmental effects associated with livestock grazing at the Clarens nature reserve; iii) and assess the socio-economic conditions associated with livestock grazing at the Clarens nature reserve. Maximum likelihood classification and NDVI techniques were applied to remotely sensed images from the Landsat 5 TM, Landsat 7 ETM+ and Landsat 8 OLI sensors to map vegetation cover for the Autumn season of the years 2004, 2008 and 2016. A questionnaire survey was conducted to capture the perceptions of livestock owners and the reserve' management committee. Firstly, over 50% increase of unpalatable vegetation was detected in the vegetation cover of the Clarens reserve. Secondly, qualitative data reveal that 71 % of livestock farmers attribute land degradation to rainfall variability, while the management maintain that livestock overgrazing is the source of negative environmental degradation in the reserve. Change in the vegetation cover has not demonstrated any noticeable effects on the socio-economic conditions of the community. Hence, major dissimilarities in the perceptions of both stakeholders, which are influenced by the sense of responsibility of the two parties towards the reserve. The knowledge and understanding of livestock grazing in a protected area developed in thfs study could be used as a case study to establish grazing management strategies that could sensitize livestock owners to actively participate in the daily maintenance and managing of the reserve for sustainable use of natural resources. And, to forge good working relationships between the management of protected areas and the surrounding communities.