“Efforts to enlarge the Garden Route conservation footprint through the creation of conservation corridors on private land are catalytic for conservation,” says Cobus Meiring, chairperson of the Southern Cape Landowners Initiative (SCLI).
The Southern Cape Garden Route is one of the most biodiversity-rich environments in the world, but the area is increasingly under pressure from fast-growing towns, rural development, industrial-scale agriculture, one of the busiest highways on the continent and ever-present, aggressively-spreading invasive alien plants and trees of almost all species to be found in South Africa. Substantial areas of the Garden Route are officially declared conservation areas and under management by either SANParks or CapeNature, but that is by no means enough to preserve what remains of sensitive biodiversity, including Fynbos, coastal forests, marine and terrestrial species. Given the increased pressure exerted on the environment, it is vital that not only the regional conservation footprint is enlarged, but that where the possibility exists, conservation corridors be defined to allow for plant and animal migration and survival.
It is within this context that the conservation of Garden Route rivers, streams and catchments can play a vital role. The objective of enlarging the conservation footprint and the establishment of conservation corridors along Garden Route rivers can only be achieved through the active participation, collaboration and cooperation between conservation and environmental authorities and private landowners and private conservancies.
“Over the past three years, and in an effort to reach out and assist private landowners and land managers in the Garden Route, the Southern Cape Landowners Initiative (SCLI) has been assisting, educating and encouraging private landowners and land managers living along selected Garden Route rivers, including the Great Brak, Kaaimans, Touw, Goukamma and Knysna rivers to control and eradicate invasive alien plants on their land in order to contribute to the creation and maintenance of biodiversity corridors, whilst at the same time enlarging the biodiversity conservation footprint,” says Meiring, chairperson of the Southern Cape Landowners Initiative (SCLI).
For decades environmental management and conservation bodies have tried to empower and enable private landowners to clear their land of invasive alien plants, but that has proven a difficult task as controlling and eradicating IAPs can be taxing on resources, and landowners often simply ignored the problem. However, during the past two decades factors such as the State starting to enforce environmental legislation including the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, Act 10 of 2004 (NEM:BA) and the Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act (CARA), Act 43 of 1983, as well as the reality of fire risks associated with IAPs proved drastic as wildfire disasters took their toll. Water security and climate change issues started creeping in, essentially assisted in landowners changing their minds about addressing IAPs on their land, as well as the benefits of preserving the very special Garden Route biodiversity assets.
Says Meiring: “During the past two years participating private landowners in the region were confronted with the socio-economic realities of the national lockdown and the restrictions it imposed, but despite that, landowners continued to eradicate and control IAPs on their land within their means and resources. Private landowners do have the willingness and resources, to varying levels, to address invasive plant growth on their properties, and they are capable of making a huge difference in reversing the decline of biodiversity and enlarging the conservation footprint."
According to Meiring, the effort of the SCLI Cape Floristic Corridor Revival Project to assist landowners to deal with invasive alien plants on a sustainable basis, allowing them to take ownership, commit their own resources, buy into the conservation corridor concept, understand their responsibility and the impact of their actions, even on a small scale, has proven to be a workable and affordable option, with a conservation impact over a large geographical area.
“The portions of land that were identified to form part of the SCLI Cape Floristic Corridor Revival programme are unlikely to ever be developed, and provide crucial hectares of open spaces where indigenous fauna and flora can survive.”
“However, much more must be done in future to safeguard the conservation of Garden Route river systems as they serve as some of the last vestiges where biodiversity can survive and migrate through, connecting what biodiversity is on the mountains with what is in the sea, and all in between.”
“Buffer zones around national and provincial reserves are vital for biodiversity survival, and it is important that all private landowners, conservancies and conservation forums operating along Garden Route rivers strengthen cooperation and work together to achieve the objective of enlarging the conservation footprint of the Garden Route,” says Meiring.