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Team effort to secure rare Knysna vegetation type

Work is well underway to secure the last remnants of a critically endangered type of fynbos on the Garden Route in an area which was one of the last-known refuges for the Brenton Blue butterfly.

The focus of this work is on the Western Heads of the Knysna Estuary near Brenton-on-Sea which is home to a critically endangered vegetation type called Knysna Sand Fynbos.

Unique to the Garden Route, Knysna Sand Fynbos once encompassed more than 15 000 hectares, stretching from Wilderness, north of the lakes system, to the Robberg Peninsula near Plettenberg Bay.

However today less than 10% remains due to agriculture, commercial timber plantations and coastal development. A large portion of what remains can be found on the Western Heads where a recent survey found more than 100 species, including a vulnerable type of erica.

But an intense fire in the Knysna area in 2017– which may have put paid to the future of the Brenton Blue butterfly – highlighted the urgent need for more concerted conservation effort to remove invasive alien species and secure these fynbos remnants.

Partnering in this effort are SANParks, WWF South Africa, the Western Heads Goukamma Conservancy (WHGC), Table Mountain Fund (TMF), CapeNature, the Southern Cape Fire Protection Association and the Knysna Municipality.

As a first step, WHGC obtained project funding from TMF to create awareness and encourage landowners to commit their properties to biodiversity stewardship and to eradicate invasive alien plants which pose a high fire risk in the area.

Another piece of the puzzle recently came together when WWF South Africa was able to acquire 42 hectares of land on the Western Heads, made possible through a generous bequest. This land will be included into the Garden Route NP.

Says Jan Coetzee, Land Programme Manager with WWF: “This conservation effort started with a partnership with CapeNature to secure the original stewardship sites and a conservancy linked to the Brenton Blue butterfly as part of a corridor between the Garden Route NP and CapeNature’s Goukamma Nature Reserve.

“We are now working closely with SANParks to expand this corridor through a variety of mechanisms, ranging from land purchase to contractual arrangements which recognise landowners as the custodians of biodiversity on their land.”

This west-to-east corridor is crucial for wildlife movement and for maintaining landscape functionality. It is also important for nature-based tourism in the region. 

© SANParks
Ribbon cutting celebration on WWF-owned property, attended by landowners, and representatives from SANParks, the Western Heads-Goukamma Conservancy, WWF and the Brenton-on-Sea Ratepayers Association.

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