Making Renosterveld cool through those ‘lightbulb’ moments

Making Renosterveld cool through those ‘lightbulb’ moments

“I want people to see how precious Renosterveld is, and how we’re losing it. I took guests to our lookout point on Haarwegskloof and showed them the largest connected stretch of Renosterveld left in the world. And they were like: ‘This is it?’ A lightbulb went on for them in that moment on just how threatened it is.”

So says Nande Notyalwa, the new face ready to welcome you when you next visit our Haarwegskloof Renosterveld Reserve, between Bredasdorp and Swellendam. Nande, 23, joined the Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust (ORCT) team in 2022 as an intern, in a position partly funded by BTE Renewables.

“Haarwegskloof is a special place. It’s peaceful and quiet, and there’s always something to see. Yesterday there was a hare outside my window. A few nights ago I had an owl sitting on my bench. There’s always something new to discover here,” says Nande.

Crafting this ‘nature-loving person’

She joins the ORCT with an Honours in Botany from Nelson Mandela University in Gqeberha, and an interest in nature sparked when she was a young girl growing up in Umtata in the Eastern Cape. “We travelled a lot when I was young to visit family across South Africa. And my family would always point things out in nature as we drove and make me aware of things. Seeing things in nature, and then later learning about them in class added up to create this nature-loving person.”

Still Nande first studied law for a year, before realising that was not the career for her. “I would sit in class and wonder what people were doing and learning outside.” So she went – secretly and against her family’s wishes – to change her career path. “It wasn’t easy, I had to fight my way into this career. I got my own funding to complete a science degree, and only told my parents after I had changed my degree. They weren’t happy to begin with.”

But this was not a calling she was willing to forfeit. Nande says, “Once the veil of science has lifted, you can’t unsee it. I get my inspiration from seeing how nature is alive, and knowing it must be protected. You see a bee sitting on a plant – and know it’s those little wonders that make it all worthwhile.”

Plant conservation is ‘cool’

Now she’s using her time at the ORCT to better understand how botany in the academic world differs from on-the-ground conservation. “It’s been a big realisation for me that people often don’t care about, or are simply not aware of plants. There’s so little focus on the botany side in conservation. You need to substantiate why you need to protect a tiny plant. This made me sit up and notice the disparity between academia and practical conservation.”

As an intern at the ORCT, she’s not only introducing researchers and visitors to Renosterveld on Haarwegskloof. She’s also working closely with Director Odette Curtis-Scott and Conservation Manager Grant Forbes in the day-to-day conservation work, learning all she can about conservation while at the same time teaching others about nature. “I’m trying to show that protecting nature is very cool to my generation. I take videos of mountains and plants. I want to show them there’s much more to life than sitting in front of a laptop or being in a city.”

And it’s working. Nande says, “My friends think I have the coolest job in the world. It’s so much fun and I look forward to learning everything there is to learn.”