First biodiversity agreement with emerging black farmers

by CapeNature

Bergsig Cellars, close to Bainskloof pass – CapeNature CEO Lucille Meyer has signed the first community biodiversity agreement with new landowners (3rd generation farmworkers) during a ceremony held here today – to ensure the conservation of 40 hectares of land known as a paradise for botanists with critically endangered species including the endangered Breede Alluvium Fynbos as well as the critically endangered geometric tortoise.

CapeNature Chairperson Mark Botha said: “We are really delighted to see how much the new co-owners of the Romansrivier estate support this initiative to safeguard our priceless heritage while producing sustainably.” He explained that through this partnership the new owners have committed to a voluntary agreement which is legally binding on both parties for the next fifteen years.

He went on to explain that the 40 hectare area originally formed part of a provincial nature reserve proclaimed in 1980 to protect one of the last remaining geometric tortoise populations in the upper Breede River valley. The proclaimed area was leased from the landowner, but was de-proclaimed during the late 1980s. Since then, it was managed by the landowner. A relatively small, but healthy geometric tortoise and common padloper tortoise population exist here and this agreement would assist significantly in protecting one of the last remaining populations of this threatened tortoise species. Botanists from CapeNature and CREW (Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers), based at Kirstenbosch have previously recorded many of the endangered flora species and to date more than 60% of the near-pristine Breede Alluvial Fynbos has been lost through transformation by agriculture.

Over the last few years CapeNature has led the way in conservation by successfully concluding 21 contract nature reserves, 16 biodiversity agreements and 12 voluntary agreements with private landowners – effectively expanding the protected area estate in the Western Cape on priority threatened habitats by 42437 hectares – and counting.

140ha of a farming estate, Romansrivier belonging to a 6th generation farmer, Louis Lategan was recently bought by a group of 116 farm workers on the estate in a Pty. Ltd. company called Fynbos Vrugte en Wyn Boerdery. The company is 60% owned by the farm workers, the other 40% ownership is split into 10% portions between Bergsig Estate and the three Lategan sons.

An infectious passion
The Lategans have always been a very conservation minded family and have already committed 220ha of the farm Romansrivier in a 15 year Biodiversity Agreement with CapeNature.

Bergsig Estate, co-owned by the Lategans and the same group of farm workers is a member of the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative, a pioneering partnership between the wine industry & conservation sector with the aim of minimizing the further loss of threatened natural habitat and to contribute to sustainable wine production practices through the introduction of biodiversity guidelines into the South African wine industry.

A dynamic partnership has been formed between Breedekloof Wine & Tourism, Biodiversity & Wine Initiative, Dept Agriculture’s LandCare division, DEAT, Working for Water and CapeNature and is called the Upper Breede Collaborative Extension Group (UBCEG). As many of their initiatives overlap in the area, the group aims to focus awareness on threats, best practice and the value of accurate data. Collaborative strategic planning will enable the partners to access their respective budgets in a way that adds value to the projects. The groups focus areas are securing biodiversity,
youth camps, awareness campaigns, alien clearing and rehabilitation. The primary aim is to create an enabling environment for landowners to take ownership of the projects to ensure sustainability into the future.

What is stewardship?
The Stewardship Program is a C.A.P.E program being implemented by CapeNature with the purpose of securing critical biodiversity lowland habitats on privately owned land into formal conservation agreements.
The word Stewardship refers to the wise use, management and protection of that which has been entrusted to your care. Within the context of conservation, stewardship means wisely using natural resources on your property, protecting important ecosystems, effectively managing alien invasive species and fires, and grazing or harvesting without damaging the veld.

The Biodiversity Agreement that has been signed between the farm workers and CapeNature is a voluntary agreement which is legally binding on both the farm workers and CapeNature. It is one of a set of three options for conservation on private land; other options include Contract Nature Reserves and Voluntary Conservation Areas. Each option can be tailored to the needs of the landowner and none of them cede ownership rights to CapeNature.

Caption to photograph: Rupert Koopman (botanist, Sanbi-CapeNature), Sandra Waterboer (representative of Fynbos, Vrugte en Wyn Boerdery) and Lucille Meyer (Former CEO, CapeNature) explore the plants on the estate.

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