The Cape Winelands Biosphere Reserve plays a fundamental role in protecting areas of international conservation importance, while ensuring that existing nature reserves and areas of conservation importance in especially the mountainous areas are not fragmented. The primary conservation role of the proposed Biosphere Reserve is summarised below.
- Conservation of Landscapes & Ecosystems
- Conservation of Species Biodiversity
- Protection of Genetic Biodiversity
- Genetic Biodiversity
The proposed Biosphere Reserve is known for its pristine natural environment and its rich diversity, and also for its cultural environment which supports a number of economic sectors. The Cape Winelands District Municipality and the other relevant authorities and agencies involved in the governance and management of the area support the notion that meaningful biodiversity conservation will not be achieved by only conserving statutory nature areas. It is recognised that a continuous system of protected areas should be a key element of any strategy to maintain biodiversity and ecosystem functions (e.g. The provision of a sustainable stream flow of high quality water).
The rationale for the nomination of the Biosphere Reserve is that the functions of protected nature areas, landscapes and ecosystems go far beyond the usual perception of the term ‘protection’. Such areas are immensely valuable, beyond their boundaries, in providing for the rehabilitation of environments, as nutrient sinks, for landscape stability and for the replenishment of species, populations and communities. The proposed Biosphere Reserve will enable the conservation of nature areas, landscapes and ecosystems side-by-side with sustainable forms of development that are essential for the economic growth of the area. It is recognised that such economic growth is also necessary to ensure the long-term protection of the natural environment. In this regard, it is a well-known fact that environmental conservation is generally a low priority in impoverished communities.
The proposed Biosphere Reserve will furthermore contribute to creating a system of protected areas by including areas of conservation importance into the designated core and buffer areas. In this regard, it is noted that the various highly irreplaceable portions within the designated buffer areas of the Biosphere Reserve are relatively poorly protected (including pristine patches of West Coast Renosterveld and Central Mountain Renosterveld).
As stated previously, the registration by UNESCO of the Cape Floral Regional Protected Areas World Heritage Site is an important step in giving international recognition for the global importance of the Cape Floral Kingdom, the core of which is encapsulated by the proposed Biosphere Reserve. The Biosphere Reserve will provide a holistic and robust framework that will enable the longterm protection and facilitate effective management of this World Heritage Site.
In order to ensure an optimal yield of high quality water, the mountain catchment areas need to be maintained in a natural condition with a dynamic cover of Fynbos. Portions of the designated core area of the proposed Biosphere Reserve have been infested by alien vegetation, which affects the area’s biodiversity and water regimes (Indigenous Vegetation Consultancy et al, 2003). It is important to note that alien plant invasion can reduce runoff by more than 50% (Burgers et al, 1994).
Rivers, as ecological corridors, are of immense conservation importance, especially seen in context of the water yielding function of the proposed Biosphere Reserve. Such ecological corridors form an integral part of the ecological integrity and the health of ecosystems. The proposed Biosphere Reserve will therefore promote the ecological integrity and health of the catchment areas and associated river systems as an imperative for sustainable economic development. This function therefore has enormous economic connotations. The proposed Biosphere Reserve will, as a priority, strive to revive efficient management of catchment areas, which has been not been up to standard during recent years.
A key problem in the area is that management actions of institutions responsible for catchment management and private landowners are often not effectively coordinated, which contributes to the threat posed by alien plant infestation. It is important to note that the optimal management of mountain catchment areas to maintain the source of our water supplies is extremely cost-effective in comparison with other water supply options, such as the building of additional dams, desalination, added water purification works, etc. (Burgers et al, 1994).
The quality of water within the Berg River and Breede River Water Management Areas, located within the proposed Biosphere Reserve, is threatened by an increase in salinity, nutrient enrichment and eutrophication, agrochemical and bacteriological pollution, and general littering. This has been ascribed to the discharge of treated sewage effluent into rivers and agricultural runoff. Algal concentrations are increasingly attributing to lower quality water. Bacteriological pollution due to leaking sewers and contaminated stormwater runoff into urban rivers are also a serious concern. Recent water samples taken from the Berg River showed an E.coli1 bacteria count about 30 times higher than the safe limit for water sport, drinking and general use by humans, according to standards set by health authorities. Water samples taken on the 9th February 2004 indicated 560 million E.coli bacteria per 100 ml of water within the Plankenbrug River2 (Die Burger, 3 August 2004).
The future growth in irrigation will be limited by the availability of high quality water and the requirements of the domestic and urban users. This might adversely affect the quality and quantity of agricultural produce grown for export. It will therefore be necessary to base decisions on sound economic principles.
The proposed Biosphere Reserve will play an essential role in the management of the area’s water resources by providing an integrated forum where the various departments and authorities responsible for water management can work together towards implementing their diverse responsibilities and through which the various programs relating to catchment management will be co-ordinated effectively.
1 E.coli is an indication that the water is contaminated with untreated sewage. The acceptable number of the E.coli bacteria per 100 ml are 400. However, in a study done by Dr. Jo Barnes of the Community Health Department of the University of Stellenbosch up to 11 700 E.coli bacteria’s per 100 ml were found in the Berg River and in supply pipes to the river, while counts in stormwater pipes of informal settlements next to the Berg River showed up to 2 440 million E.coli per 100 ml (Die Burger, 3 August 2004).
CONSERVATION OF SPECIES BIODIVERSITY
A number of vegetation types of immense scientific importance occur within the proposed Biosphere Reserve, namely:
a) Mountain Fynbos:
The designated core area of the Biosphere Reserve consists of pristine habitats of this vegetation type. More than 1 600 plant species occur in this area, including severally locally rare and threatened species and more than 150 endemic species. The area has the highest concentration of Mimetes species in the world, most notably the rare Mimetes hottentoticus and M. capitulatus. Many Red Data Book species of the Serruria Family occur. These include the endemic Snowball Spiderhead (Serruria kraussii), Silver-paw Spiderhead (Serruria incrassata), and the Short-leaf Spiderhead (Serruria roxburghii) which is found only on Paarl Mountain and two other small locations on the periphery of the biosphere reserve. The Blushing Bride (Serruria florida), locally know as ‘Trots-van-Franschhoek’ (Pride of Franschhoek), only occurs in Assegaaiboskloof near Franschhoek in a one population of some 1 000 plants.
b) Sand Plain Fynbos (Phylica cephalantha Shrublands):
This vegetation type is characterised by a rich diversity of species, including the Ninepin Heath Erica mammosa, Starface Phylica cephalantha, Baboonface P. stipularis, and Thamnochortus obtusus and Sandveld Thatching Reed T. punctatus. At least 84 Red Data Book species occur in this vegetation type.
c) West Coast Renosterveld (Elytropappus rhinocerotis Shrublands):
As stated previously, this is the most threatened vegetation type in the Western Cape, with less than 3% of the original area remaining and less than 2% formally conserved in nature reserves (Low and Jones, 1995). The conservation of the most important original tract of Renosterveld in the Elandsberg Private Nature Reserve is regarded as being of subcontinental importance and even of global significance.
d) South & South-west Coast Renosterveld:
Due the fairly large transition areas between Fynbos and thicket types very few of the nature reserves in this area actually conserve Renosterveld. Thus, only 1.42% of South & South-west Coast Renosterveld is being conserved.
Many of the species in the Fynbos biome naturally occur in small, localised populations. This results in an increase in diversity and ultimately in endemism as populations of the same species is subjected to different pressures and slowly, through generations, development different genetic structures. Over long time periods new species develop in this way. However, this localisation of species in small patches creates a conservation problem since drastic habitat changes over a small area, such as the ploughing of a field, can lead to the extinction of a species. Much of the area outside of registered nature reserves is considered highly irreplaceable. This includes the habitat of the now almost extinct West Coast Renosterveld, Central Mountain Renosterveld and patches of Sand Plain Fynbos. Most of these areas have been cultivated. The Biosphere Reserve will contribute towards the identification, rehabilitation and conservation of as much as possible of remaining untransformed areas.
2 Samples taken at Weltevreden (up stream from Kayamandi) indicated a count of 700 E.coli bacteria per 100 ml, while 34.5 million E.coli per 100 ml was counted just below Kayamandi (Die Burger, 3 August 2004).
As described above, most of the proposed Biosphere Reserve is covered with Fynbos. Species richness of birds, mammals, frogs, reptiles and insects in Fynbos is high. The biomass of animal populations is however low. Historically, bigger game species occurred in Renosterveld, but due to the demise of this vegetation type it seems unlikely that viable populations of large mammals will ever be reintroduced.
Species such as Leopard (Panthera pardus), Caracal (Felis caracal), Grey Rhebok (Pelea capreolus), Cape Grysbok (Raphicerus melanotis), Klipspringer (Oreotragus oreotragus) are some of the medium sized species occurring in the proposed Biosphere Reserve. Smaller animals, which are commonly spotted, include Baboon (Papio ursinus), Badger (Mellivora capensis), Dassie (Hystrix africaeaustralis), Grey Mongoose (Galerella pulverulenta), Striped Poplecat (Ictonyx straitus), Porcupine (Hystrix africaeaustralis), and Water Mongoose (Atilax paludinosus). Bontebok, Red Hartebeest, Eland, Cape Mountain Zebra, etc., have been reintroduced into some areas within the proposed Biosphere Reserve. The reintroduction of suitable species contributes to the faunal diversity and is encouraged and regulated by CapeNature in terms of a formal translocation policy.
Small mammal species include the striped fieldmouse (Rhabdomys pumilio), Namaqua Rock Mouse (Aethomys namaquensis), spine mouse (Acomys subspinosus), vlei rat (Otomys irroratus) and the elephant shrew (Elephantulus rupestris).
The bird species are typical of that of the Cape mountains. Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta), Barn Owl (Typo alba), Cape Eagle Owl (Bubo capensis), Cape Sugarbird (Promerops cafer), Malachite Sunbird (Nectarinia famosa), and the Lesser Double-Collared Sunbird occur (Nectarinia chalybea). A number of birds of prey also occur, the most notable of which is the Black Eagle (Aquila verreauxii) and the African Fish Eagle which breeds at, amongst other, the Theewaterskloof Dam.
A significant number of reptiles occur in the proposed Biosphere Reserve. These include the Hawequa Flat Gekco (Afreodura hawequensis) which is listed in the South African Red Data Book as restricted. This species occurs in an area between Bain’s Kloof and Franschhoek (Branch, 1988). Snakes are common, but are seldom encountered. According to the Hottentots Holland Management Plan (CNC, 1999) Drinkrow & Cherry (1995) have identified the Western Cape as a centre of Red Data Book anuran species richness, which warrants it an area of great conservation importance.
South Africa has the highest tortoise diversity in the world. The Western Cape and the proposed Biosphere Reserve, in particular, are home to one of the World’s Top 25 Endangered Turtles, listed by the Turtle Conservation Fund (TCF). The endangered Geometric Tortoise (Psammobates geometricus) is endemic to the Renosterveld of the area. The Geometric Tortoise or suurpootjie is the only endemic tortoise in fynbos, and one of the rarest in the world. Its breeding cycle is timed so that its hatchlings emerge in the late autumn, when they are less likely to be caught in the fire.
Results from a butterfly study conducted by AK Brinkman and Alan Heath in Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve near Franschhoek (December 1995) identified a number of butterfly species classified as endangered in the SA Red Data Book for Butterflies. These include Poecilmitis endymion, Poecilmitis nigricans nigricans, and Tsitana dicksoni. Both Poecilmitis endymion and Tsitana dicksoni are classified as rare3 species, while Poecilmitis nigricans nigricans is classified as intermediate4. These species are endemic to areas in the vicinity of the Du Toit’s Kloof and Franschhoek Mountain Pass. Poecilmitis endymion inhabits the highest peaks of the mountains, with its colonies usually just off the summits along small rocky ridges. Tsitana dicksoni is found on partly grassy slopes.
Various indigenous and endemic fish species occur in the rivers and dams of the proposed Biosphere Reserve. The area is consequently of critical importance to the indigenous freshwater fish conservation in the Cape Floristic Region. Indigenous fish recorded from the Berg River include the Witvis (Barbus andrewii) (critically endangered in this habitat) and the Berg River Redfin (Pseudobarbus burgi) (critically endangered and restricted to tributaries of the Berg River) (Skelton, 1993). Cape Kurpur (Sandelia capensis) is commonly found in the rivers of the proposed Biosphere Reserve, while the Cape Galaxias (Galaxius zebratus) is near threatened.
PROTECTION OF GENETIC DIVERSITY
A primary requirement for the restoration and protection of genetic diversity is that habitats and home ranges are to be consolidated and protected as holistic units so as to allow for unrestricted migration of species. In this regard, the ecological corridors that form part of the core and buffer areas of the proposed Biosphere Reserve have an immensely important function. Ecological corridors, such as the Berg, Breede and Eerste River systems, form vital linkages between the coastal areas, with their associated habitats, and the inland mountains which form the primary catchments of these rivers. A primary function of these ecological corridors is to maintain genetic movement in these macro ecosystems.
The numerous mammals, reptiles, rodents and birds of the area are particularly dependent on a large-scale conservation area. Specific reference is made to the Cape Leopard (Panthera pardus), which, according to the Cape Leopard Trust, has suffered extensive range loss in the Cape and is extinct in many areas (www.capeleopard.org.za). The proposed Biopshere Reserve will contribute to the long-term protection of the leopard and facilitate much-needed research into the spatial distribution and ecology of this species.
In order to enhance the restoration of fauna diversity the proposed Biosphere Reserve could contribute through the establishment of sanctuaries for endangered species and breeding programs to help stock the proposed Biosphere Reserve and the rest of the Western Cape with endangered species. In this regard, it is noted that all breeding programs of CapeNature have been terminated primarily due to a lack of resources.