With a BSc in Environment, Economics and Ecology, Sarah has long been fascinated with the challenge of balancing human needs and environmental protection.
A stunning new research and visitor centre has opened in South Africa to celebrate one of our planet’s richest, yet most threatened habitats – the renosterveld.
The Overberg Lowlands Conservation Trust (OLCT) was the driving force behind the centre, and will manage it now it has opened.
Renosterveld – which is named after the black rhinos once found there – is found in one of the world’s smallest but richest plant kingdoms in the world: the Cape Floristic Region.
It has the highest diversity of bulbous plants in the world, including hundreds of species found nowhere else on earth. It also supports an array of mammals, reptiles, insects, amphibians, and birds.
A butterfly rests on a Polhillia curtisiae plant – a species found at this site. Credit: Odette Curtis/OLCT.
Sadly, because of the fertile nature of lowland renosterveld, it has been subjected to centuries of transformation and mismanagement for agricultural development (cash crops) and livestock grazing, and as a result is now regarded as Critically Endangered.
The fragmented and degraded renosterveld that we see today is very different from the ecosystem that existed 300 years ago, which would have supported large numbers of herbivores (including black rhino) whose browsing habits are thought to have helped maintain the diversity and structure of this system.
Renosterveld landscape. Credit: Odette Curtis/OLCT.
Today, only those areas that are well managed retain the characteristics of true renosterveld, and most of these are found on private land. Consequently, the future of renosterveld lies in the hands of individual landowners.
OLCT works tirelessly to secure the long-term conservation and management of the remaining fragments of renosterveld through active partnerships with landowners, conservation authorities and NGOs.
Odette Curtis and Dirk van Papendorp open the centre. Credit: Heynè Brink.
The new research and visitor centre is located in the largest area of lowland renosterveld left in the world, which was purchased by WWF in late 2013 and is now managed as a reserve by OLCT.
Fauna & Flora International contributed toward the legal costs of securing the reserve and continues to support OLCT to this day – providing funding for practical reserve management activities (such as fencing, erosion control and water management) and technical advice.
“The idea for a renosterveld centre is about seven years old and our conservation partners have helped us achieve what we have done today,” said Dirk van Papendorp, chairman of OLCT’s board of trustees, at the opening event.
The new centre will help visitors understand the importance of this ecosystem. Credit: Mike Goudling.
“Plans are under way to secure more land for conservation, and the centre will enable us to host more national and international research students and undertake vital research on renosterveld and its management,” he added.
To learn more about the visitor centre, and the work of OLCT, visit their website.