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Waterscapes: The Springfield Saltpans

Aug 21, 2018 | Activities, Blog

For birders today, the Saltpans at Springfield offer something truly special. This waterscape lures the most beautiful and rare bird species to our region when there’s water. Birders regularly see the Lesser and Greater Flamingo, Curlew Sandpipers, Sanderling and Little Stints.

Less frequent sightings there include the Chestnut-banded Plover, the Eurasian Curlew and the Red Knot (according to SANParks).

But for the entrepreneur living in the 1700s, the realisation that there were Saltpans on the Agulhas Plain brought excitement not because of the impressive birdlife. Rather, it sparked the start of an industry; one that led to the historical and cultural value that now forms part of our region’s heritage.

 

In fact, it all started around 1705, when an explorer named Peter Kolbe first reported seeing the Saltpan somewhere close to Elim and Bredasdorp.

The VOC administration stepped in in 1791, taking ownership of the pans, and then leasing them out to prospective operators. A few years later, the VOC decided to change this system, and operators had to bid in a public auction to get access to the pans.

At the time, the salt was used mainly in the fishing industry in the Agulhas Plain – which was experiencing tremendous growth at the time.

 

The salt industry became so significant that the road between the Saltpans and Gansbaai became known as the Soutpad (or the Salt road) – with salt transported along here by ox wagons.

Between 1914 and 1950, the Springfield Salt and Farming Company continued to remove salt from the Saltpans. But in 1950, Lord de Saumarez bought the pan and the rights to exploit the salt, and for the next 10 years continued the operation.

 

In the 1960s, all operations stopped – and today the production plant, manager’s homestead and crystallisation ponds can be seen on a trip to the Saltpans, in the Agulhas National Park.

 

(Information provided by Emmerentia de Kock, Agulhas National Park)

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