Know, grow, protect and enjoy South Africa's indigenous plants

Our Conservation Work

BotSoc champions biodiversity conservation in South Africa to protect our indigenous plant diversity and ecosystems, and we have been doing this since we were established in 1913. 

South Africa’s Important Plant Areas Project

South Africa is well-known for having an exceptionally rich range of biodiversity, specifically plant diversity. We have three biodiversity hotspots: the Cape Floristic Region, Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany centre of plant endemism and the Succulent Karoo biome. And we have a diverse range of ecosystems. In fact, South Africa houses more than 20 401 described plant species, most of which are endemic to the region, with approximately a quarter of these species at risk of extinction.

Much of the South African population depends on botanical resources as a life-sustaining asset, with many local communities still relying on traditional herbal medicine produced from plants. Approximately 70% of South African rural communities rely on crop farming systems to generate a source of income. And plant material is commonly used as a source of food, fuel and lodging in many communities here.

This multidimensional use of botanical resources comes with many challenges which need to be addressed in order to protect the country’s botanical reserves.

Our National Plant Conservation Strategy

South Africa is ranked in the top ten countries globally in terms of documented vascular plant species, only surpassed by Brazil, China, Columbia and Mexico. Our phenomenal collection of plants, coupled with the botanical resources provided by these species highlights the need to increase plant conservation efforts. This was initiated when the National Plant Conservation Strategy for the country was developed, which is in line with the strategic targets of the Global Plant Conservation Strategy.

Target 5 of the National Plant Conservation Strategy looks at the need to identify important areas for plant diversity within the country. And it also highlights implementing conservation practices to effectively monitor, manage and conserve these botanically significant sites. Important Plant Areas are determined by three criteria, each with its own sub-criteria and thresholds.

The Important Plant Areas (IPA) Project is a way to determine the best natural sites within the country that demonstrate extraordinary botanical richness; sustain rare, threatened, and socio-economically significant botanical species in addition to range-restricted and threatened ecosystems.

The role of BotSoc branches

With such a diverse range of plant species confined to specific regions of the country, we need to ensure that the existing botanical populations are maintained and monitored efficiently, to guarantee the longevity of these species in their naturally occurring ranges.

By applying the IPA criteria to the relevant data sets obtained from the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), Kaveesha Naicker, CREW KZN Node Project officer (funded by BotSoc), under the guidance of Lize Von Staden (SANBI), identified those natural fragments which met the criteria as Important Plant Areas across the country at a fine scale.

Now the IPA sites containing the most threatened species within each of the BotSoc branch boundaries across the country are being prioritised. These IPA sites and more information on the vegetation within the branch boundaries are now captured in formal documentation. These will be provided to the BotSoc branches selected to pilot this work. Through the BotSoc branch prioritisation reports, branches can help to conserve IPA sites.

Immediate intervention needed

Detailed in each of the reports are 20 IPA sites that need immediate intervention specific to the various BotSoc branches.

Branches can help by:

  • Ground-truthing plant species that are historically known to occur on IPAs.
  • Monitoring and managing existing threatened plant populations and their natural habitats.
  • Leading ecological restoration and rehabilitation efforts within the IPAs.
  • Initiating Alien Invasive Clearing projects.
  • Creating iNaturalist projects to collate biodiversity observations on each IPA site.
  • Determining whether these IPAs would be suitable for Stewardship.

Why we focus at municipal level

Each of the BotSoc branches will contribute to good conservation work outside of the country’s protected areas by working in the identified IPA sites within their local municipalities that are not already protected. Branches will be able to assess the vegetation, plant diversity and the associated threats on the selected IPA sites. And from there they can inform conservation measures and provide insight into how we can strengthen conservation efforts to better protect our plant species and the surrounding ecosystem functioning in the IPA sites.

By focusing the IPA sites at a municipal level, we can make sure that those species of significant importance, requiring immediate interventions, are concentrated on.

Given the massive threats to South Africa’s indigenous plants, the Important Plant Areas Project serves as an excellent tool to plan systematically and prioritise sites for plant conservation. With the help of BotSoc branches to protect the country’s plant diversity and ecosystems on the IPA sites, BotSoc continues to do meaningful plant conservation work.

Get involved

Through citizen science, we help to map plants and use the information collected to determine important plant conservation areas. These are used to inform land management to protect areas and species under threat. Whether it’s via our BotSoc branches or through the BotSoc-funded CREW programme (Custodians for Rare and Endangered Wildflowers), it’s vital that these IPAs receive the protection they deserve. BotSoc’s current focus is to ensure our branches have the necessary resources to participate in Integrated Plant Conservation Planning and Action, and to encourage greater participation in citizen science events. 

Written by Kaveesha Naicker. Photographs by Kaveesha Naicker, Ismail Ebrahim, Nyiko Mutileni, Vathiswa Zikishe, Ansell Matcher, Suvarna Parbhoo and Caitlyn Smith.

References

Butler, R.A, 2020. Total number of plant species by country [Online]. Available here.  [Accessed 3 February 2023].

Darbyshire, I, Anderson, S, Asatryan, A, Byfield, A, Cheek, M, Clubbe, C, Ghrabi, Z, Harris, T, Heatubun, CD, Kalema, J, and Magassouba, S, 2017. Important Plant Areas: revised selection criteria for a global approach to plant conservation. Biodiversity and Conservation26(8), 1767-1800.

South Africa, 2020. Geography and climate [Online]. Available here. [Accessed 9 February 2023].

SANBI, 2019. National Biodiversity Assessment 2018: The status of South Africa’s ecosystems and biodiversity. Synthesis Report. Synthesis Report. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Pretoria

Raimondo, D (editor), 2015. South Africa’s Strategy for Plant Conservation. South African National Biodiversity Institute and the Botanical Society of South Africa, Pretoria.

von Staden, L, and Lotter, M, 2015. Important areas for plant diversity identified and incorporated into conservation processes [Online]. Available here. [Accessed  1 February 2023].

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