By Sharndre Coutriers of the Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW)
You are likely aware that South Africa is a remarkably biodiverse rich country. But not many people are aware of the pressures and threats that impact these species. The reason why we as CREW (the Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers) monitor threatened plant species is because South Africa has more species of plants that have gone extinct than any other country. Statistical evidence has shown that South Africa has over 20 000 plant species, of which 60% are endemic, 14% are threatened with extinction and a further 18% are listed as Near Threatened, Data Deficient or Rare.
Does that not make you think? One out of every four plant species within South Africa is of conservation concern.
CREW is a citizen science programme that creates awareness about threatened plant species in South Africa by involving members of the public to conserve, monitor, survey and manage the habitats where these plants occur.
One of our priority areas has been the Agulhas Plain.
This area has a huge amount of plant diversity and species richness, making it a jewel on its own. Due to habitat transformation, urban and rural development, competition with alien invasive species as well as changes in the climatic system over the years has prompted us to conduct botanical surveys in areas with potential decline in population size, in species of conservation concern.
Out of the abundant plant species found within this area, there are at least over 300 species of conservation concern, with many not found anywhere else in the world.
The Overberg area falls within the Cape Floristic Kingdom, and is known for its many endemic species. The area contains some of the most intact fynbos fragments which consist of different critically endangered vegetation types. The Agulhas Plain is home to several threatened vegetation types such as the Critically Endangered Elim Ferricrete and Overberg Sandstone. In addition, there are several endemic species and critical habitat species (which are highly range restricted species that occur in an area of less than 10km2) occurring within this unique landscape.
We have been working in partnership with the Nuwejaars Wetlands SMA, to collect valuable data from the areas being surveyed. CREW would like to assist and contribute to better land management and conservation planning by working together with other conservation authorities. Working with the Nuwejaars Wetland Special Management Area (NWSMA), we have built a good relationship with one of the leading conservation organisations based in one of our target areas on the Agulhas Plains.
Leucospermum heterophyllum (EN)
Leucadendron modestum (EN)
Disphyma dunsdonii (VU)
Serruria fasciflora (NT)
Leucadendron teretifolium (NT)
Echiostachys ecklonianus (EN)
Erica regia subsp regia (EN)
On our very first trip to the Agulhas Plain in 2019, we started monitoring the NWSMA and found several threatened plants including Erica gracilipes, which is listed as Critically Endangered. “There is a first for everything” but this trip ignited excitement to continue working in the area, to promote and support the conservation activities conducted in the Agulhas Plain.
Supporting pioneering landowners
The remaining vegetation on the Agulhas Plain is under immense pressure from threats like agriculture, inappropriate wildfires, invasive alien species and climate change. This will have a huge impact on ecosystem services in the area and supporting these conservation partners will contribute to protecting the incredibly special ecosystems of the area.
CREW will continue to support the pioneering landowners in the area to achieve their conservation objectives.
Image credit: Sharndre Coutriers