The renosterveld is one of the richest ecosystems in the world, home to an extraordinary diversity of bulbous plants. Unfortunately, because its shale-derived soils are so fertile, it was also where most of the Cape’s burgeoning agricultural sector developed, with monocultural crops like wheat, barley, oats, and various kinds of fodder rapidly replacing renosterveld’s 1 700-plus indigenous plants. These include areas like the West Coast coastal corridor running north from Cape Town, and the Overberg Rûensveld – an area roughly bounded by Botrivier in the west, Riviersonderend and Landerg mountains in the north, Heidelberg in the east and Bredasdorp in the south – where the now Critically Endangered renosterveld has been replaced by croplands through intensive agriculture over nearly three centuries.
Many of the renosterveld’s plant species are fascinatingly different and breathtakingly beautiful: like the evocatively named Kukumakranka (Gethyllis afra) with its medicinal and aesthetic values, and the spectacular spinnekopblom (spider flower, Ferraria crispa), but at least 29 of them have already gone extinct.
By the last decade of the 20th century, renosterveld had already been totally transformed, with less than 10% of the original extent remaining in a natural state. But most of this tiny remnant is extremely vulnerable because it occurs in highly fragmented pockets, and it’s no surprise that this vegetation type is classified as “Critically Endangered”.
The ecosystem that renosterveld in the Western Cape supported, with its herds of big game like black rhino, eland and the now extinct bloubok (bluebuck), has been irrevocably lost in all but a handful of areas. Some of the remaining species, like the endemic geometric tortoise Psammobates geometricus (which only occurs in the Swartland) – one of eight tortoise species endemic to the Cape Floristic Region, from a world total of just 41 – are hanging on by a thread. Other species are still present but at serious risk. The Overberg wheatlands have been classified as an Important Bird Area and are of particular conservation importance to the endemic Blue Crane and to Denham’s Bustard, both red-listed.
Extract from The Table Mountain Fund book – authored by John Yeld.
CLICK HERE to purchase the TMF book via WWF’s online store. Alternatively it is available at the Kirstenbosch bookshop.