To secure the long-term conservation and management of the remaining fragments of threatened natural vegetation in the lowlands of the Overberg through active partnerships with landowners, conservation authorities and NGOs, thereby improving the overall quality of farms, sustainable livelihoods, and landscapes in the region.
The Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust was established in 2012, by the current Director, because although the dire status of renosterveld was recognised by national government, very little focused efforts to secure the last remnants for conservation were in place. From a floral perspective, lowland renosterveld is amongst the richest (if not, the richest) of Mediterranean habitats on the planet. Sadly, it is also one of the most threatened habitats on Earth, with over 95% having been converted for agriculture (crops and planted pastures). The remaining remnants are essentially all found on privately-owned land, thus working with commercial farmers in the ‘wheat-belt’ is crucial to the survival of this special ecosystem and all the life which depends upon it.
The ORCT focuses on building relationships with landowners which ultimately result in the highest level of commitment: A conservation servitude registered on the farm in perpetuity. In return for this significant commitment from the landowner, the ORCT assists with the management and restoration of the renosterveld on the property. To date, the Trust has signed 21 easements totalling 4500 ha of renosterveld. The Trust is also involved with facilitating key land purchase priorities for the largest and most connected remnants, where viable.
The ORCT is a relatively new WLT partner: Our partnership having begun through the WLT assisting, together with other partners, with the purchase of a large remnant of renosterveld which will be incorporated into an existing renosterveld reserve, managed by the ORCT. Together, the two sections will include close to 1000 ha of protected renosterveld. This may sound like a relatively small area, but in order to appreciate the significance of this, the context of this reserve must be appreciated: There are fewer than 60 renosterveld remnants of over 100 ha in size remaining in the Overberg (where the largest remaining lowland renosterveld remnants on Earth are found) and about 10 remnants which are larger than 300 ha.
The areas that have been / are being purchased are a foraging and / or breeding refuge for many locally threatened or rare animals, in particular the Endangered Black Harrier. They contain over 600 plant species, at least 50 of which are species of conservation concern.
The ORCT works across the Overberg ‘wheat-belt’ to conserve, manage and facilitate studies on the remaining 5% of renosterveld and all those species which depend on it for their own persistence.
Activities thus include the following:
- Conservation Easements & Habitat Restoration / Management: This is our core focus as a Trust and our flagship project: We aim to secure additional hectares each year through conservation easements. Part of this programme is the ongoing management of signed-up easement sites, so that habitats are properly managed and restored (these activities include ecological burns, alien clearing, fencing, erosion control, path maintenance, etc.).
- Biodiversity surveying and monitoring: We survey known sites (easements / sites under negotiation) and new sites annually to collect biodiversity data through i) botanical surveying, ii) sweep-netting for spiders and other invertebrates, iii) small-mammal trapping (live: catch and release), iv) general bioblitzes (active searching for e.g., amphibians and reptiles, spides, etc.). We use fixed-point photography to monitor sites where management interventions need to be assessed.
- Awareness & education: We use results from biodiversity surveys to feed back to landowners with individualised, glossy reports, to demonstrate the wealth of biodiversity on their renosterveld remnants. We published a field guide (>1100 species) which we are currently converting and updating the book into an App, thus data are constantly collected towards this lifetime project. More recently, we raised funds to bring school learners from nearby farm schools (from previously disadvantaged backgrounds) to our learning centre at Haarwegskloof.
- Collaborative Research: While the ORCT has little time or capacity (we are a very small team) for undertaking its own research, we have set up the Research and Visitor Centre at Haarwegskloof for the purposes of attracting post-graduate / other studies on renosterveld. We are actively involved in Black Harrier research, as the species has a breeding stronghold in the Overberg’s renosterveld and is an important and iconic predator for the ecosystem.
CEO/Executive Director:Dr Odette Curtis-Scott