A new field guide for Overberg Renosterveld
AUG 24, 2020 | Written by Rupert Koopman. Photos by Odette Curtis-Scott & Rupert Koopman.
Conservation messaging can tend towards negative and understandably so, as loss and degradation are daily features. Fortunately, there are also a myriad inspirational narratives by people who care for nature and their extraordinary efforts to address humanity’s appetite for destruction.
The publication of The Field Guide to the Renosterveld of the Overberg, is a manifestation of this kind of effort; another clear milestone for a committed group of people who care deeply about a special piece of the planet, represented here by the authors of this guide.
To introduce this significant publication, let’s consider an informed opinion on the recent past state of the Overberg Renosterveld region. A staple on the shelf of many a nature lover is the exquisite publication Southern African Wild Flowers: Jewels of the Veld (2005) by Dr John Manning with photography by Colin Paterson-Jones. It is a pictorial journey of the varied landscapes and flora of the region.
Above: Attendees of the 2013 launch of the Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust. Photo: Rupert Koopman.
Dr Manning headlined the pages covering the Overberg wheatbelt as the “Killing Fields” and while celebrating the many spectacular geophytic gems, highlighted the perilous future of many of these species due to habitat loss and the subsequent effects of fragmentation.
At the same time, conservation efforts such as the Stewardship Programme and Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW) commenced activities in the region, documenting the threatened flora and habitats, engaging with landowners and moving the needle.
Above: Leucadendron coriaceum. Photo: Odette Curtis-Scott.
For workers in the region, it was clear that the flora was understudied. As part the fieldwork for the 2003 Botanical Society project “A Fine Scale Conservation Plan for Cape Lowlands Renosterveld”, at least eight undescribed species were found as well as one which had last been collected in the 1830’s.
Subsequent field work in the region by CREW, the Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust (ORCT) and other has further shown the richness of the renosterveld, with new species both floral and faunal rewarding field scientists efforts.
As the much-anticipated first field guide aimed solely at Renosterveld, there is a lot of ground to cover. The scope of the Field Guide to the Renosterveld of the Overberg is comprehensive, with just under a thousand plant species illustrated as well as mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, amphibians and a range of the more visible invertebrates.
Above: Lyperia violaceae. Photo: Odette Curtis-Scott.
This builds on the work the authors have conducted in the region since the early 2000s. As someone who has spent some time in this landscape too, it is nice to see the mix of scientific and practical management knowledge; this publication truly has something for everyone.
As many people are still unclear about the value of Renosterveld as well as why its plight matters, the introduction provides a handy primer on how it fits into the Fynbos Biome and the four Renosterveld types found (Western, Central and Eastern Rûens Shale Renosterveld and Rûens Silcrete Renosterveld).
The authors have gone to significant lengths to provide context and explanatory notes, with handy info boxes placed throughout. I especially enjoyed the fact that it provides the etymology of every single Latin genus and species name.
Above: Hemimeris racemosa. Photo: Odette Curtis-Scott.
Given the that the “grassy shrubland or shrubby grassland” question remains a bone of contention, the six-page double spread covering the more prominent grasses (as well as invasive species) is handy. Also well-represented are the legumes (Fabaceae) family; a prominent feature of renosterveld and – with many being palatable – a valuable indicator of veld condition.
Aptly, as lead author Dr Odette Curtis-Scott has been at the forefront of conservation efforts in the Rûens for a number of years and a concerted effort is thus evident in supplying the relevant information to empower the reader.
The conservation status of each red listed species is included (the list is updated annually and can be seen at www.redlist.sanbi.org. As many as 12% of the plant species in the book are considered threatened. An appendix introduces several options on how to formally conserve conservation priorities on privately owned land.
Above: Aristea biflora. Photo: Odette Curtis-Scott.
At least 99% of remaining Renosterveld in the Overberg is found on private land and it is gratifying to see the contributions of champion conservation-minded landowners past and present recognised for their efforts. It is also heartening to learn how their understanding of the value of their veld has changed through the conservation extension work of the ORCT and colleagues.
A highlight of the book is Appendix 1 which is a thorough guide for Renosterveld landowners and managers detailing practical management steps and useful information on the timing and permissions needed for fire (a key ecological driver) as well as pointers to the laws around the correct methods of invasive alien clearing and the removal of natural vegetation.
These two influences are the major threats to the future survival of renosterveld and the more people who understand these processes and can hold each other accountable, the better.
Ultimately, all field guides are practically limited to not include everything but the Field Guide to the Renosterveld of the Overberg has landed just in time for spring and begs to be taken for a test drive in your nearest patch of “renosterbosveld”.
In celebration of renosterveld and spring, the Botanical Society of South Africa is hosting an online launch of The Field Guide to Renosterveld of the Overberg featuring a discussion with the authors.
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