Overberg Bands Together To Save The Renosterveld

Posted by The Cape Country Meander on Wednesday, July 02, 2014 with No comments

Of the once prolific renosterveld, a type of fynbos that covered the Western Cape’s fertile lowlands in the Overberg 300 years ago, a trifling 4-6% remains. The ramifications for biodiversity in this already critically threatened area are serious. All species from the humble, often seemingly scruffy little bushes to the immense diversity of bulbs and other flowering species, to the buck, insects, birds and humans depend on one another. The question then, can agricultural activities and conservation coexist?

Reaction from farmers

It is impossible to ignore that farmable land is becoming increasingly expensive. This in turn means that more of the renosterveld is ploughed. However, as Dirk Papendorp, himself a farmer and Chairperson of the of the board of the Overberg Lowlands Conservation Trust says, “... us farmers need to see there is an advantage to conserving the natural components of our farms”.

Farmers in particular can play a major role in conserving what’s left. Transformation of natural veld for farming land fragmented the land in the first place and left only tiny patches of renosterveld that the tractors and ploughs couldn’t reach. In fact, 99% of what’s left is precariously surviving on privately owned land, often labelled “uitvalgrond”, Afrikaans for wasteland on farm maps.

Overfarming fragmented the Renosterveld
The Overberg Lowlands Conservation Trust (OLCT)

In 2012, the OLCT was formed with a specific mandate to preserve the renosterveld. The organisation’s approach is pragmatic in the sense that they are not naively out to manage little isolated tufts of scrub. As Dr Odette Curtis, Project Manager of OLCT says, “... we want to work with farmers to manage living landscapes. If we manage in isolation we will lose it all anyway”. For a farm to be truly healthy and to have sustainable agricultural longevity the general habitat must also be healthy. This is a fact.

* New species: Hesperantha kiaratayloriae (critically endangered)
How achievable are the solutions put forward?

When farmers are shown what’s growing on their land, when they are made to understand that development does not necessarily imply ploughing; that a tiny species the only one of its kind in the world is grown on his farm and maybe a few others, he starts to see things from a new perspective. Conservation is a consequence of awareness.

That said the OLCT intends to do more than just change perspectives. They are also actively looking for practical ways to help farmers to manage their farms differently by providing viable economic incentives. Moreover, in the relatively short time the trust has been in existence they have already discovered six new species.

* New species: Polhillia curtisiae (critically endangered)
See this profoundly moving video

Local farmers in the region and representatives from the OLCT talk in candid terms about the renosterveld. In particular, one of the farmers, a man called Hansie Swart speaks about the horror of handing a paintbrush to a child to paint over the Mona Lisa. Similarly, he says the renosterveld, which took millions of years to evolve is also a kind of Mona Lisa. It’s bizarre then that we think we can bring our destructive paintbrushes (ploughs) to “paint” all over it. Even if you don’t reside in this particularly beautiful (and from a biodiversity perspective, sacred) part of the world, you can also do your part to preserve this and other living landscapes.

To find out more, to volunteer or make a donation, go to the Overberg Lowlands Trust website www.overbergrenosterveld.co.za. Also see National Geographic article, Recognising the Renosterveld: Biodiversity in Peril by Evan Eiffler.

* Species images copyright 2012 www.overbergrenosterveld.org.za