From the 5 – 8 August this year’s Fynbos Forum took place at Baardskeederbos in the southern Overberg. The Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust’s (ORCT) Director, Dr Odette Curtis-Scott, was invited to give a keynote talk as part of a special Symposium in tribute to Renosterveld ecologist and conservation champion Stephen Cousins after his tragic passing last year. Fynbos Forum brings together researchers and conservation practitioners together from across the Cape Floristic Region (CFR), facilitating networking, education, exchange of ideas and raising awareness about research, management and conservation initiatives.
Odette’s keynote at Fynbos Forum was entitled: ‘Renosterveld under Siege: Securing and managing one of the World’s most threatened ecosystems’. She opened the talk by setting the scene through the words of Alexander Von Humboldt, who noted as long as 200 years ago that the effects of the human species’ intervention on the natural environment ‘were already incalculable’. Hope should have come for the Renosterveld with Margaret Jarmin’s (CSIR) 1980s first mapping of priority areas within the CFR and SANBI’s 2003 lowland plan but sadly despite these critical documents, Renosterveld destruction has continued unabated.
Spiralling land prices and improvements in agricultural machinery have led to illegal ploughing becoming one of the most significant threats impacting Renosterveld. Overgrazing also leads to significant ecological damage to the veld that is hard or even impossible to reverse. So how much Renosterveld are we losing? Scientists at SAEON have been quantifying losses through use of satellite imagery. The results are shocking: A recent conservative analysis of loss of Renosterveld in the Overberg is placed at more than 1200 Ha over the last three years.
But what do we have to celebrate about Renosterveld conservation? The findings from SAEON’s research have been taken seriously by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning (DEADP) and this led to a high level workshop on illegal ploughing. DEADP are committed to action, taking these issues to the relevant government ministers and AgriSA with the aim of collaboratively developing a proposal to fund an initiative to halt the loss of Overberg Renosterveld occurring through unlawful activities.
The Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust has spearheaded a pilot programme to implement American style ‘Conservation Easements’ and the momentum is growing with this project. These Conservation Easements enable voluntary title deed restrictions on areas of Renosterveld in perpetuity, leading to far more Overberg Renosterveld being formally conserved and actively managed. Through this programme landowners are also capacitated to become managers of their Renosterveld. By the end of 2019 2000-3000 Ha of Overberg Renosterveld will be formally conserved through this programme.
Since WWF South Africa purchased the world’s largest area of Overberg Renosterveld at Haarwegskloof and the ORCT’s Renosterveld Research and Visitor’s Centre was founded, the ORCT’s postgraduate research group has flourished. There have been a number of Masters and PhD students undertaking applied research on various subjects with relevance to inform conservation and management of Overberg Renosterveld. Another important project to grow knowledge and raise awareness has been the ‘Ecological Field Guide to Overberg Renosterveld’ to be published in 2020 by Struik Nature. The guide will encompass 950 plant species, 130 animals, management guidelines, ecological information, conservation and red listing matters.
It is clear that despite the extensive threats facing this critically endangered vegetation type, the ORCT has made great strides in conserving Overberg Renosterveld and raising awareness about its importance. We would like to thank the many amazing farmers of the Overberg that work alongside us in conserving their Renosterveld. The Table Mountain Fund (TMF) and WWF South Africa, as well as the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust, the Mapula Trust and the Ford Wildlife Foundation are also acknowledged for their support of the ORCT’s Conservation Easement Programme. Please consider supporting the vital work of the ORCT to help them manage and conserve more Renosterveld in perpetuity.