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Sound science for
LOWLAND HABITATS IN THE OVERBERG
Severely threatened, poorly known, global botanical hotspots, in dire need of conservation attention.
Lowland Renosterveld is the relatively fertile, clay-based veld type that occurs in the low-lying areas of the Western Cape.
Renosterveld is part of the Fynbos Biome, although it is very distinct from Fynbos - the main difference being that it generally
lacks, with some exceptions, the three distinctly fynbos elements: the proteas, ericas (heather) and restios (reeds). It is one
of the richest ecosystems in the world, due to its extraordinary bulb diversity. However, the renosterveld we see today is very
different from what it was >300 years ago: before the advent of large-scale commercial agriculture in the Western Cape,
renosterveld supported large numbers of big game (including Black Rhino, Eland and the now extinct Bluebuck) and was
probably a far more grassy system (with some areas even having a very high Rooigras (Themeda triandra) component), with
a much higher diversity of shrubs and bulbs. The combination of grazing (grass-eating) and browsing game animals of
varying sizes maintained the diversity and structure of this system.
Sadly, the replacement of large game animals with small, selective feeders (cattle and sheep), combined with years of
poorly-informed management (i.e. over-grazing and too little or too much burning), has allowed this special veld to become
severely degraded and dominated by 'unwanted' shrubs, such as renosterbos (Elytropappus rhinocerotis). Thus, the grey,
'drab' veld that we see today is probably largely a result of the legacy of historic overgrazing and is NOT representative of
true renosterveld. Today, those areas that are well-managed retain the characteristics of renosterveld and it is clear that this
habitat supports a diversity of botanical gems, incomparable with any other system in the world.
Understanding the levels of
endemism and threat in our
In wilderness I sense the miracle
of life, and behind it our scientific
accomplishments fade to trivia.
Western Cape, South Africa
Lowland Renosterveld Conservation
What is Lowland Renosterveld?
Because of the fertile nature of lowland renosterveld, it has been exploited for agriculture - with the result that it is now a
severely transformed and fragmented system (i.e. it has been ploughed and broken into lots of small, isolated pieces). It is
considered a Critically Endangered veld type, with <4-6% remaining throughout its original range. Almost all remaining
renosterveld is on private land - thus the future of renosterveld lies in the hands of each individual landowner.
Why the concern over its conservation status?
Original Overberg Renosterveld Extent
Remaining Overberg Renosterveld Extent, 2012
Statistics: What remains today?
12 296 fragments are spread across 2021 cadastres
37 527 ha renosterveld i.e. 6% remaining
Fragments vary in size from 0.0001 ha to 835 ha
72 fragments are >80 ha
46 fragments are > 100 ha
13 fragments are >200 ha
The two largest remnants are ±800 ha
Renosterveld originally covered the entire clay / shale-based
lowlands of the Overberg. These represent the most fertile
soils of the region and so, were first identified as being
most suitable for agriculture by early European settlers.
It is uncertain what exactly these habitats looked like in the
past, as they were radically transformed (through livestock
grazing and subsequent ploughing) relatively soon after
European settlement. Adjacent to these habitats, are the
mountainous and strandveld-type habitats, which are
generally based on poor, acid soils and are less
transformed than their renosterveld counterparts.
Lowland priority veld types in the Overberg
The Fynbos Biome comprises >160 different vegetation
types, emphasizing the high levels of diversity within this
incredible biome. There are four different types of
renosterveld in the Overberg - all of which are equally
threatened: Western-, Central- and Eastern-Rûens Shale
Renosterveld and Rûens Silcrete Renosterveld. The word
'rûens' comes from the Dutch word 'ruggens,' which was
used to describe the hilly nature of the low-lying, clay-based
areas of the Overberg. Today, the 'rûens' comprise mostly
croplands and renosterveld remnants.
Other threatened lowland habitats in the Overberg include Elim Ferricrete Fynbos, Greyton Shale Fynbos and Swellendam
Silcrete Fynbos. The Overberg Lowlands Conservation Trust will focus primarily on the renosterveld habitats to begin with,
but is equally concerned with the latter three vegetation types and will also be developing projects within these habitats,
once resources become available.
Overberg Lowlands Conservation Trust
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Key Threats to Renosterveld
Incorrect use of fire
Too little fire, too much fire or burning at an
Incorrect use of grazing or overgrazing
Lack of sufficient rest for the veld after a burn
Including edge effects and associated extinction risks.
(Illegal) cultivation of virgin land
Part of the Fynbos Biome: a system recognized as
one of the world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots
Richest bulb kingdom in the world. Highly
transformed for agriculture, due to its fertile soils.
Red Data Status: Critically Endangered
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