Fynbos and Succulent Karoo | WWF South Africa

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Fynbos and Succulent Karoo

© Therese Brinkcate

South Africa is a treasure trove of unique plants and animals, especially in the Fynbos and Succulent Karoo biomes of the Cape – and fynbos is found nowhere else in the world. Yet much of this conservation-worthy land is under threat and species could be wiped out forever if not protected.

What is the issue?

The Western Cape is known for its wine, fruit and rolling fields of wheat and canola. But this intensively farmed land is first and foremost home to diverse fynbos – the Cape Floral Kingdom – which is the smallest yet the richest plant kingdom in the world.

Now, approximately less than 20% of our fynbos region remains unspoiled, existing in disconnected fragments. This makes it difficult for ecosystems to function and can lead to the extinction of plants and the insects and animals that rely on them. This natural landscape has been altered not only due to agriculture, but also urban development, invasive alien plants and more frequent wildfires.

Similar threats are affecting the Succulent Karoo which stretches up the West Coast to Namibia. Climate change and overgrazing are also issues in this semi-arid area which is home to over 6 000 plant species, many of them low-lying shrubs and water-storing ‘’vetplante’’ which are found only there.

What are we doing?

Aligned with national strategy WWF identifies and acquires land with high-biodiversity value in the Succulent Karoo and Fynbos biomes and works with various partners on stewardship programmes.

How do we do this?

WWF purchases properties to contribute to government’s national target of increasing South Africa’s protected area network through the National Protected Area Expansion Strategy. This has resulted in the creation and expansion of national parks and nature reserves in the succulent Karoo, Fynbos areas and the rest of the country.

The land purchases are funded through WWF-administered trusts such as the National Parks Trust, set up in 1986, as well as the Leslie Hill Succulent Karoo Trust which was established from a generous legacy donation in 1995. For the latter, purchases of properties within the Northern and Western Cape, which have highly threatened Succulent Karoo vegetation.

Most of the land bought by WWF is maintained and managed by government conservation partners such as SANParks and CapeNature. We also support private landowners who want to commit a portion of critical natural areas on their land, to conservation. This is done through formal yet voluntary contracts known as biodiversity stewardship agreements.

Who do we work with?

WWF works with national, provincial and local government departments, plus government conservation agencies as well as civil society organisations such as the Nuwejaars Wetlands Special Management Area and other non-profit organisations like the Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust.

How did it start?

WWF has been involved in protected area expansion since its inception as the South African Nature Foundation in 1968. Where some of the first properties purchased in the 1980s founded the establishment of protected areas such as the Namaqua National Park. More recently, WWF’s work is strongly guided by the government’s National Protected Area Expansion Strategy, which focuses on areas with important biodiversity value.

What are the big wins?

  1. Since inception, WWF has supported provincial agencies to contribute to regional protected areas estates, including 9% in the Western Cape, 23% in the Northern Cape and 3% in the Eastern Cape.

  2. Through generous donations and trusts, fynbos and Succulent Karoo land has been acquired which includes iconic protected areas such as the Table Mountain, West Coast, Namaqua and Tankwa national parks, as well as the Knersvlakte Nature Reserve. 

  3. Since 2015, WWF together with CapeNature, successfully signed up 23 stewardship sites in the Western Cape, to support management of the land. This has led to the conservation of habitat for a range of animal species, such as leopard and aardwolf and the protection of important populations of threatened succulent plants, such as the Critically Endangered bababoudjie (Gibbaeum nebrownii)and tongblaarvygie (Glottiphyllum cruciatum).