Elim Conebush (Leucadendron elimense)
Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 182514153
Safeguarding keystone fauna and flora on the Agulhas Plain, South Africa
Farm 215 as an example of a conservation servitude and the impact on critically endangered endemic cone bushes
The Agulhas Plain region has been identified as a biodiversity hotspot, with unique life and high endemism. Nestled in the heart of this region, is the Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy (WBFC) - a conservancy dedicated to the conservation of the Cape Floral Kingdom. The WBFC was established in 1999 and recognizes the importance of a collaborative effort in conserving and managing the landscape. Currently the WBFC consists of 34 landowners, covering an area of 18 000 hectares of a wide variety of vegetation types. With 80% of the biodiversity of the Cape Floral Kingdom occurring on private land, it is vital to work with private landowners in order to conserve this biodiversity. Over the past 19 years, more than 1 100 plant species have been photographed and documented in the region (12% of the diversity of the Cape Floral Kingdom). As a long standing member of the conservancy, Farm 215 is dedicated to the conservation of fynbos and in its own capacity has funded the removal of some alien invasive plant species from part of its land. The owners have also photographed and documented all plants through the various flowering seasons.
Elim ferricrete fynbos has been classified as critically endangered due to the high threats this vegetation faces from alien invasive plant species, land transformation, agriculture and poor fire regimes. While fynbos is typically categorised by low nutrient soils, Elim ferricrete soils are more fertile and productive, giving rise to the threat from agriculture. With very little of this vegetation type formally conserved, it is vital to create awareness and educate the landowners of the biodiversity on their land. The Grootbos Foundation aims at mapping all remnant patches of this vegetation type on the Agulhas Plain. While original estimations were suggested at 25% of this vegetation type remaining, our current research is proving that there is a lot less of it remaining. Preliminary research suggests that there is as little as 5% of Elim ferricrete fynbos left intact. Once mapping is completed, the Grootbos Foundation will feed this data to the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) for the South African national vegetation map. All sites are categorised by the condition of the vegetation as well as the alien invasive species density, giving each site a score out of 10.
The ultimate goal in conservation is to conserve land in perpetuity, ensuring the conservation of landscapes, biodiversity and important ecological corridors for the movement of fauna and flora. While there will always be an on-going struggle to find the balance between conservation and livelihoods, it is extremely important to secure vital linkages and corridors in the landscape to ensure our biodiversity doesn't diminish. Conservation servitudes are a legally binding layer added to the title deeds of a property, ensuring that no further development or degradation occur on that land. While the conservation servitude property still belongs to the landowner, a conservation layer is added to the property and is applicable to both current and future landowners.
At Farm 215, an original 7-hectare area of critically endangered Elim ferricrete fynbos, has now been expanded to 585 hectares of the land successfully signed into a conservation servitude as a result of this Project. While focus is still predominantly on the management and rehabilitation of the Elim ferricrete fynbos, there are also large expanses of critically endangered Overberg Sandstone fynbos conserved through thisservitude status. Through this servitude, we were able safeguard a population of the locally endemic Aloe juddii. The Aloe juddii is listed as an endangered species and can only be found in the rocky outcrops from Gansbaai to Baardskeerdersbos at three known sites. This is a huge milestone for conservation and ensures the conservation of landscape connectivity between sites.
The Grootbos Foundation is currently working with the neighbours of Farm 215 to ensure a further conservation corridor is secured linking state conservation land on the coast at Walker Bay Nature Reserve to state conservation land on the eastern side of Uilkraalsmond Nature Reserve. The Grootbos Foundation developed a full Management Plan for the servitude area on Farm 215 which outlines all management activities for the farm. The management plan is attached to the legal documents and acts as a framework for permitted activities in the area; it also includes species lists, alien invasive mapping, fire protocols and trail mapping.
There have been various projects undertaken at Farm 215 to restore the Elim ferricrete area through intensive alien clearing as well as a rehabilitation project by which endemic species to the Elim veld have been planted back into the site. With the generosity and support of the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, we have been able to provide the landowner with further alien clearing on the sensitive vegetation site. As this land is conserved in perpetuity, return on investment is high. The alien clearing project provides training and employment to a team of twelve women from the local underprivileged community. As the vegetation is extremely sensitive, the alien clearing is labour intensive and requires skill and precision. Fixed point photography sites have been put in place across the site to monitor the recovery of the land after the removal of alien plant species.
Through previous poor fire regimes and overgrazing, populations of the endemic cone bushes have suffered significantly on Farm 215. These endemic cone bushes are of conservation concern and have been listed on the SANBI Red Data List. The Grootbos Foundation collected seeds from the endemic cone bushes; namely Leucadendron elimense (Endangered), Leucadendron modestum (Endangered) and Leucadendron laxum (Endangered), for propagation at the Green Futures Nursery located on Grootbos Private Nature Reserve. The Green Futures Nursery is one of many socio-development projects implemented by the Grootbos Foundation, as has been in operation for fifteen years, providing training and skills development to members of the local communities in horticulture and hospitality. Once these seeds germinated, the seedlings were planted back into the site on Farm 215 in five trial blocks. The 10mx10m blocks were carefully selected in the area of disturbed land where various planting methods could be trialled for succession of plants. Broad cast seed sewing and planting of seedlings were trialled in the various blocks and are being closely monitored. After the Spring months, plant population succession will be documented allowing one to see which method is most viable.
Farm 215 has been a catalyst for conservation in the area and in August 2018, the Grootbos Foundation signed their second conservation servitude with Lomond Wine Estate which borders onto Farm 215. Conservation servitudes are a relatively new form of conservation which allow landowners an easily accessible opportunity to conserve their land.
Agulhas Green Corridor Project Goals:
1. To determine the distribution and extent of all remaining critically endangered Elim fynbos patches as well as other threatened vegetation types in the corridor area and to prioritise these for conservation intervention.
2. To map the distribution and determine the population sizes of the four flagship Elim fynbos species.
3. To meet with and inform landowners about the occurrence of Elim fynbos and flagship species on their properties. To use these findings to strengthen our case for conservation and excite landowners with regards the unique biodiversity value of natural habitats on their properties.
4. To meet and interact positively with landowners to start the process of strengthening their conservation commitment both through increased knowledge and awareness as well as through incentives and exploring the option of conservation easements.
5. Establish servitudes (easements) on private land and provide owners with management plans which will focus on stock exclusion, alien vegetation management and fire management.
6. Provide incentive activities (alien vegetation clearing, fencing) for partner landowenrs who commit their priority sites to conservation.
7. Propagate four target species and reintroduce to priority sites as part of site rehabilitation projects - implement though our Green Futures programme that provides livelihoods for local disadvantaged communities.
Mapping of the Elim Ferricrete Fynbos
This region is home to an array of unique vegetation communities including the critically endangered Elim Ferricrete Fynbos. While fynbos is generally characterised by low nutrient soils, ferricrete soils are more productive and easy to plough, making them ideal for agricultural practises. As a result Elim Ferricrete Fynbos is under severe threat from land conversion for agriculture as well as the rapid spread of alien invasive plant species which out compete the natural biodiversity.
Original estimates are that Elim Ferricrete Fynbos once used to cover an area of 69 000 hectares. Research in 2009 estimated that there was approximately 29% of the original extent remaining of this ecosystem. The Grootbos Foundation has recently finished mapping all remnant patches of this vegetation type in across the Agulhas Plain, scoring the remnant areas on the basis of condition as well as the level of invasion from alien invasive plant species. The presence of keystone endangered species such as Leucadendron modestum, Leucadendron elimense, Leucadendron laxum and Leucadendron stelligerum was also noted during this process which will aid in doing population and presence studies at a later stage. The harsh reality of our research is suggesting that there is as little as 5% of this vegetation type intact and remaining. This research was completed by analysing the in-depth vegetation map of South Africa, highlighting the areas where this vegetation should occur, and then ruling out areas where the land had been transformed using recent aerial imagery. The conservation and research team then did an infield study to visit all the remaining sites and rating them according to their condition. The crucial findings of this study will be handed over to South Africa National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) for updating and integrating their vegetation maps. These results will aid in making informed decisions around the conservation value of this threatened vegetation type and add focus to its dire status.
Very little of this vegetation type is secured formally through conservation areas, with the majority of Elim Ferricrete Fynbos being found on private landowners property. Through researching and mapping all remnant patches, there was an opportunity to engage with landowners and create awareness about the unique biodiversity they own. Many landowners are completely unaware of the conservation value of this land. Conservation cannot be done in isolation and it is extremely vital to work with other NGO’s, stakeholders and conservation agencies within the landscape to achieve goals. As part of the in-field study, the Grootbos Foundation collaborated with various conservation bodies in the area to gain access to land, engage with landowners and develop strong relationships with the various conservation bodies.
With a plant diversity and species richness equalling those of tropical forests, almost 2 500 plant species have been recorded across the Agulhas Plain. Of this, 447 plant species are listed as species of conservation concern, equating to almost 20% of the floral biodiversity of this region.
The ultimate goal in conservation is to conserve land in perpetuity, ensuring the conservation of landscapes, biodiversity and important ecological corridors for the movement of fauna and flora. While there will always be an on-going struggle in finding the balance between conservation and livelihoods, it is extremely important to secure vital links in the landscape to ensure our biodiversity doesn’t diminish. Through mapping the current extent of Elim Ferricrete Fynbos in the area, we were able to highlight ‘hotspots’ within our core conservation area. The Grootbos Foundation has been working closely with these landowners to ensure that there is no further degradation on their property and create a conservation layer to their land. To date, the Grootbos Foundation has signed two conservation servitudes securing vital pieces of Elim Ferricrete within the landscape.
Exploring long term conservation strategies to conserve critically endangered keystone species within the Cape Floral Kingdom
Landscape Level Conservation
Over a quarter of the described plant species occur within the Cape Floral Kingdom, including the critically endangered, Agulhas Sand Fynbos, Agulhas Limestone Fynbos and Overberg Dune Strandveld and Elim Ferricrete Fynbos, which is home to keystone species like Leucadendron modestum, Leucadendron elimense, Leucadendron laxum and Leucadendron stelligerum.
The Grootbos Foundation has explored various mechanisms to promote long term conservation strategies which have included:
working within the framework of a Conservancy,
registering conservation servitudes with private landowners and
facilitating the setup and registration of a statutorily recognised Protected Environment in terms of the Protected Areas Act (Act 57 of 2003) which will conserve approximately 12 000 hectares of fynbos and forest landscapes.
Assisting Nature Reserves to go through the regularisation process to bring them in line with current legislation
Grootbos has recognised the value of working with neighbouring landowners and community partners since its inception in 1996. Grootbos is one of the founding members of the Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy which has worked with neighbouring landowners since it was registered as a legal trust in 2000. The Grootbos Foundation was formed in 2003 to carry out the conservation and community-related work on behalf of the Grootbos Nature Reserve.
The Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy, although legally registered, was based on relationships and the trust developed over a 20-year journey. In 2015, the Grootbos Foundation shifted its vision to create a continuous conservation corridor between the Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy, to create conservation servitudes to protect the remnants of critically endangered Elim Ferricrete Fynbos.
Two conservation servitudes were created in partnership with two long-standing members of the Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy, totalling 667 hectares, and were underwritten by Fauna and Flora International. Through the MBZ funding, we were able to clear 93 hectares of natural fynbos of invasive alien plant species, provide follow up clearing and reintroduce keystone species as part of our habitat restoration projects.
We tried to approach landowners who were not part of the Conservancy, but did not have any success in converting these relationships to commit to the formation of conservation servitudes. This taught us the importance of relationships and trust formed over many years.
However, through this process, we realised that we needed to refocus our efforts on the Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy and find a way of securing the core properties through the formation of the Protected Environment.
While the conservancy has been active in the landscape for more than 20 years, there are no formal ties securing this land for long-term conservation. Conservancies are based on a voluntary basis, where landowners may leave the conservancy at any point. Over the recent years, the conservation footprint of the conservancy has grown tremendously to encompass 48 landowners, and over 21 000 hectares of fynbos and forest systems. By establishing a Protected Areas Network within the core of the Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy the relationship will be built with the land, securing landscapes and contributing to South Africa's national Protected Areas targets.
The Grootbos Foundation is driving the formation of the Protected Environment and is assisting the owners of private nature reserves to go through the regularisation process. This will ensure that the nature reserves align with current legislation.
By refocusing our efforts on setting up the Protected Environment:
57% of the conservancy will be conserved in the greater Walker Bay Protected Areas network (12 491 ha)
Secure three patches of critically endangered Elim Ferricrete Fynbos within Protected Environment
These sites have been our core restoration sites over the recent years through introducing critically endangered cone bushes unique to Elim Ferricrete Fynbos
Two of these sites are conservation servitude sites which were funded by MBZ (Lomond Wines and Farm 215)
Alien invasive plant species removal funded by MBZ has been implemented on two of these sites as part of landowner incentive schemes.
1057 plant species have been recorded in the PA, which is 11% of the Cape Floral Kingdom diversity of which 152 are of conservation concern
24 mammal species recorded in the area, of which 3 are of conservation concern (Cape Leopard, Cape Clawless Otter, Grey Rhebok)
Through these lessons learnt, we have realised the value of relationships amongst landowners and the trust that is built over many years.
Through the Protected Environment, we will increase the conservation footprint significantly ensuring conservation in perpetuity. The Protected Environment requires the formation of a Landowners Association which will oversee the implementation of a conservation management plan. Zonation maps are being developed for the registration of the Protected Environment.
Landowners are signing a Letter of Intent, which will be formalised through updated zonation maps, writing a conservation management plan and having the Protected Environment signed off by the Provincial MEC.
This will provide protection for 99 years, ensuring that key conservation sites and conservation corridors are maintained for connectivity across the landscape as well as contribute to national conservation targets for Protected Areas within South Africa. With the current rate of habitat destruction, every scrap of biodiversity matters.
Project 182514153 location - South Africa, Africa