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.

More than 80% of the Fynbos region has been altered and fragmented by agriculture, urban development, invasive alien plants and more frequent wildfires. 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.

Similarly, the Succulent Karoo, which stretches up the West Coast to Namibia, faces a number of different threats, including, climate change, mining and overgrazing. This semi-arid area is a globally recognised biodiversity hotspot, which is home to over 6 000 plant species. Many of these plants are low-lying shrubs and water-storing “vetplante”, found nowhere else in the world.

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 and Wilderness Foundation Africa (Northern Cape).

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. In South Africa’s two biodiversity hotspots, WWF has supported national government and provincial conservation agencies to contribute over 470 000 hectares to the protected area expansion targets. This includes 9% in the Western Cape, 23% in the Northern Cape and 3% in the Eastern Cape; thus protecting iconic species and pristine landscapes.

  2. Through generous donations and trusts, Fynbos and Succulent Karoo land has been acquired in protected areas such as the Table Mountain, West Coast, Namaqua and Tankwa national parks, as well as the most recently declared Knersvlakte Nature Reserve. 

  3. WWF has partnered with provincial conservation agencies and civil society in successfully promoting the biodiversity stewardship programme on land owned by both private and communal landowners. This has resulted in the signing of voluntary but binding stewardship agreements – together with management plans – covering over 60 000 hectares that provides protection for a range of threatened plant and animal species.