Written by: Odette Curtis
On the southernmost end of the African continent lies the smallest, but richest, plant kingdom on Earth: the Cape Floristic Kingdom. Within this incredible system is a plethora of different vegetation types (>120), all facing various levels of threat. However, there are none so threatened as the lowland renosterveld.
Renosterveld has been radically transformed for agriculture (<5% remains) and all remnants occur on privately-owned land, making its conservation and management extremely challenging. The Overberg Lowlands Conservation Trust was established for the sole purpose of saving this critically endangered habitat from otherwise-certain extinction, through working with farmers to help them appreciate and manage these precious remnants of our natural heritage.
This poorly-understood system is most renowned for its extraordinary bulb diversity (the highest in the world) and is famous for its spectacular displays of spring flowers which result in a grassy-shrubland habitat transforming into a wonderland filled with botanical gems.
One-upon-a-time, this vegetation covered the fertile lowlands of South Africa’s Western Cape and was home to many large herbivores (including the extinct bloubok and quagga, as well as black rhino, bontebok and a host of other ‘big and hairies’). Today, most of these animals have been exterminated from the system, while many of the smaller critters (e.g. bat-eared foxes, aardwolf, grysbok, grey rhebok) and threatened birds (e.g. the magnificent black harrier) are hanging on by a thin thread. As yet, we do not have a grasp on how this has impacted the pollinators; but these too are almost certainly struggling in this transformed landscape.
There is hope, however! The Overberg Lowlands Conservation Trust are dedicated to saving this system, to ensure that the stronghold of this special vegetation (i.e. the lowlands of the Overberg) is conserved and that this agriculturally high-production area is maintained as a living landscape, where everyone can benefit.
If we don’t act now, we may lose this ecosystem forever. Instilling a feeling of pride amongst farmers, while forming partnerships with these important custodians of our natural heritage, is a critical part of saving these ecosystems.
We need your help to establish the first ever renosterveld centre!
The Overberg Lowlands Conservation Trust, recently became the proud manager of the first piece of true lowland renosterveld in the Overberg to have been purchased for conservation through a collaborative project between ourselves and WWF-SA. This special piece of 500 hectares of renosterveld forms part of the largest, most contiguous piece of lowland renosterveld left in the world. We want to use this opportunity to establish the first-ever visitor and research centre. The infrastructure already exists, but it is derelict and in need of a serious make-over, as well as a few essential commodities to make it habitable!
We are therefore running a crowd-funding campaign to raise funds to get the building restored into a functioning house, where visiting scientists, students, donours and special guests can spend time in the largest area of renosterveld left on the planet. With this centre, renosterveld will finally have a home.
From this space, we will teach farmers, school kids, farm workers, students and local and international visitors about the wonders of this incredibly diverse and neglected ecosystem. We will also make it available as a base for local and international post-graduate students and scientists who would like to do research in the area.
This reserve is the home of a newly-discovered species, Polhillia curtisiae, which as far as we know, only grows in this locality! It holds an abundance of rare and threatened plants, is a refuge and feeding area for several threatened birds (including black harriers, secretary birds, cape vultures, southern black korhaans, Denham’s bustards and blue cranes), as well as several endemic small mammals, reptiles and insects (probably undiscovered species of these too!).
There is still so much to learn and discover in this dwindling system –please help us to make this happen!