Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust

Description

Renosterveld is one of the most under-appreciated biodiversity hotspots found within Mediterranean ecosystems globally. It is a diverse, severely threatened habitat, listed itself as Critically Endangered, while also housing over 100 threatened plant species, several threatened and endemic birds and countless numbers of invertebrates. Extensive conversion to croplands has resulted in an estimated 5% of the original Renosterveld remaining in the Overberg. The scattered remnants are often subjected to mismanagement in the form of overgrazing, incorrect burning regimes, pollution and ploughing of watercourses, unmanaged erosion and chemical drift from the surrounding agricultural matrix. These impacts are leading to a breakdown in ecological processes (pollination processes being the greatest concern), thus without urgent intervention, the functional extinction of this entire ecosystem is inevitable. There is thus an immense sense of urgency around this conservation conundrum.

We established the Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust (ORCT) in 2012, aiming to conserve and rehabilitate the remaining remnants and corridors of this ecosystem through various programmes, with an emphasis on building relationships with the farmers who own these precious remnants.

Close to the southernmost tip of South Africa lies one of the world’s most threatened ecosystems: This is Renosterveld. This rich and diverse ecosystem falls within the well-known Fynbos Biome, renowned for its floral diversity and extraordinarily high levels of endemism. While fynbos soils are generally sandy and poor, renosterveld occurs on the richer, more fertile soils, rendering it highly suitable for agriculture.  As a result, Renosterveld has been subjected to the extreme and damaging impacts of extensive land transformation and degradation to make way for commercial agriculture over the last 100 years. As much as 95% of this ecosystem has been converted for large-scale crop farming and there can be no doubt that with this level of loss, we have also lost many (in some cases, undescribed or unknown) plants and animals. Yet within the remnants that remain, we find an extraordinary number of unique, endemic and charismatic species that are entirely reliant on the persistence of these patches for their survival.

The Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust (ORCT) is a Non-Profit Organisation dedicated to halting the extinction spiral through the proactive conservation, restoration and management of remaining Renosterveld patches. The ORCT’s work is built on three pillars: Protection, Education & Research.


We undertake the following: 

  • Secure Renosterveld hectares: for conservation in perpetuity, through our Conservation Easement Programme.
  • Restore, rehabilitate and manage Renosterveld remnants: to ensure their long-term survival and viability.
  • Educate people about the importance of preserving our natural environment: from landowners and people who work on the land to local school children, teachers and conservation scholars.
  • Undertake and facilitate crucial research: to enable a deeper understanding of these ecosystems, so that we can manage them more effectively, thus securing for future generations a fantastically rich and unique area of South Africa.

    In 2020, the ORCT published a book to showcase the phenomenal diversity that is Renosterveld, so that others may revel in, and understand, this previously overlooked habitat. The book’s Foreword is written by the highly-respected and accomplished Professor Richard Cowling, where he states: “Overshadowed by Fynbos – the iconic Cape vegetation – Renosterveld was neglected scientifically until relatively recently. And in the nick of time! Starting with the industrialization of agriculture in the 1940s, Renosterveld was relentlessly ploughed for cropping, mainly cereals and pastures. Today barely 5% of Overberg Renosterveld remains, almost all of which is restricted to untillable soils on steep and often rocky slopes. We may never know exactly what lived on the better developed soils of the gentle slopes and bottomlands. What we do know is that every remaining pocket of intact veld, no matter how small or isolated, is irreplaceable. Overberg Renosterveld is Critically Endangered”.

Targeting large, contiguous remnants and biodiversity hotspots:

While research has shown that, in terms of botanical diversity, every remnant counts irrespective of shape or size, it is nonetheless important to approach landscape conservation in a strategic and targeted way: Larger remnants are more likely to maintain ecosystem processes than are small, isolated islands. Thus our strategy focuses foremost on securing the largest, most connected remnants within each of the four Renosterveld types that occur in the Overberg. We believe that by creating these conservation areas through partnerships with champion landowners in each of these ‘nodes’ we will inspire additional landowners to follow suit, hopefully creating a ‘snowball’ effect. While the four different Renosterveld types (namely Wester-, Central-, and Eastern Rûens Shale Renosterveld and Rûens Silcrete Renosterveld appear similar superficially, they each contain a suite of rare endemics, several of which are unique to only one or two of the four Renosterveld types. Thus, we have selected the largest, most connected priority clusters across all four vegetation types. In addition to targeting sites within the largest and most contiguous areas of the four renosterveld types, we are also working with landowners in Critical Biodiversity Areas (CBAs) and Ecological Support Areas (ESAs) on an opportunistic basis, irrespective of size or connectivity, particularly where i) biodiversity hotspots are identified and ii) where partnerships with landowners are strategic and open up other opportunities for Renosterveld conservation in the Rûens.


A flagship species: The Endangered Black Harrier While renosterveld is most renowned for its floral diversity, it also provides a crucial refuge for wildlife and in particular, some rare and endemic animals, such as the Black Harrier: a rare, charismatic bird of prey which is in deep trouble. The Black Harrier has an estimated (declining) population of fewer than 1000 mature individuals and its breeding range in centred on the Cape Floristic Region: a biodiversity hotspot facing many threats. Some of the highest densities of Black Harriers are found in Renosterveld habitats in the Overberg, but these once-extensive ecosystems have been reduced to scattered remnants representing just 5% of their historical extent. It is predicted that because the species appears temperature-sensitive, increasing inland temperatures will make inland sites intolerable for harriers, potentially rendering the Overberg’s ‘coastal’ sites as the stronghold for the species in future. However, the Overberg wheat-belt has also been identified as a hotspot for windfarm developments: A major threat to harriers, considering the high mortality rates of Black Harriers already recorded elsewhere in South Africa. Research and mitigation measures are urgently required to prevent the species’ demise. The ORCT is actively involved with Black Harrier research in the region and is undertaking a tagging project to learn more about their use of the landscape, in order to feed this into influencing future windfarm developments and habitat management.


Committed to the landscape for the long-term

The ORCT is entirely dependent on donor support – we receive nothing from government. Please consider supporting our work – without our work, the renosterveld, and all its creatures, will be lost forever. We are working against a ticking clock and extinction is otherwise inevitable. We are the only organisation dedicated to this cause.


Banking Details

Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust
Standard Bank Account number 1092736514
Bredasdorp Branch: 198765
NEDSZAJJ

Company Details

Near Wallet: overbergrenosterveld.near

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