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Rescuing Renosterveld in the Overberg

In spring, the Overberg is a quilt of green wheat fields and bright yellow canola fields, but from a conservation perspective, the dark, grey-green patches of natural vegetation inbetween are what matter most.

© Flickr Creative Commons/Steve Crane
A typical Overberg scene where agricultural activities dominate and only remnants of Renosterveld remain. Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons/Steve Crane

These fragments of Renosterveld – only 5% of the original remains – represent the most endangered vegetation type on earth. I recently tagged along on a media trip with the WWF Nedbank Green Trust to spend time with Dr Odette Curtis-Scott and her team from the Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust (ORCT) to find out more about their work in the area.

© Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust
Haarwegskloof is owned by WWF and has a research centre for scientists and guest accommodation.
Beautiful Haarwegskloof

To the background of welcome rain thrumming on the tin roof of the research centre at Haarwegskloof, ORCT ecologist Keir Lynch told us more about their work. Hard to believe but these 500 ha at Haarwegskloof is the largest single piece of Overberg Renosterveld remaining which makes it pretty special. It lies only 10km from CapeNature’s De Hoop Nature Reserve on the coast, and the dream is to one day secure a corridor of land that connects with De Hoop. An old dairy next to the research centre has been converted into beautiful guest accommodation. Visitors can also explore the reserve on foot, cycle on farm roads or drive to nearby attractions like the pontoon at Malgas – all the while knowing that their support is helping conservation efforts here.

© Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust
Water courses provide corridors and safe havens for wildlife, like these secretive aardwolfs which were photographed with a camera trap. They are insectivorous and eat mostly termites.
Easing the pressure

Keir is the manager of the Watercourse Restoration Project, another vital component of the ORCT’s work. Not only do these water courses provide pathways and refuge for animals, plants and pollinators, but they also help to prevent further damage or degradation to the veld which helps the farmers. By mapping water courses, the project is able to prioritise the removal of alien invasive vegetation and erosion control. One of the unexpected surprises of this exercise has been the discovery of a population of critically endangered Heuningnes redfins, a freshwater fish which is now the subject of further study.

© Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust
The Pelargonium lobatum (or vine-leafed pelargonium) which flowers in spring in lowland areas puts off a strong, clove-like scent at night.
Rewilding Renosterveld

Sometimes ecologists also have to let their imaginations run wild. Along with the Renosterveld that disappeared so did many other species such as the quagga (extinct) and the bloubok (a kind of antelope that was endemic to Renosterveld and is also extinct). But there is one elegant creature that could be brought back if Haarwegskloof increased in size. This is the serval or tierboskat – a slender, long-legged, medium-sized cat that once occurred here. Just imagine that!

© Credit Flickr/Markus Jaschke
If Haarwegskloof doubled in size to over 1000 ha it might be possible to reintroduce serval which once occurred here. Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons/Markus Jaschke
Andrea Weiss Photo
Andrea Weiss, Media Manager

Andrea Weiss likes nothing more than being outdoors.

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See how The WWF Nedbank Green Trust makes a difference.