Knersvlakte Nature Reserve proclaimed in vital biodiversity hotspot
The Knersvlakte, one of the crown jewels in the country’s rich botanical treasure trove, has been added to the national network of protected areas.
On 24 September 2014 WWF South Africa, CapeNature and the Leslie Hill Succulent Karoo Trust (LHSKT) announced the declaration of the Knersvlakte Nature Reserve during a celebratory event at the historical Griqua farm Ratelgat near Vanrhynsdorp. The reserve – the first to be declared for 20 years in the Western Cape – has been proclaimed in terms of the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act.
The Knersvlakte, which falls within the Succulent Karoo region, is considered one of the biodiversity hotspots of the world. Located north of the Olifants River from Klawer to just south of Kliprand in the Western Cape and Northern Cape respectively, the 85 500 hectare protected area is considered a very important endemic region within this hotspot of international conservation concern.
Says Dr Morné du Plessis, CEO of WWF South Africa, “We are celebrating an extremely vital moment in our country’s conservation history by protecting this seemingly desolate, largely under-appreciated area. This land holds immense biodiversity, and its plants have adapted to the arid hot climate making them beautifully unique”
The Knersvlakte is known for its characteristic white quartzite gravel that conceals unique vegetation – including rare dwarf plants – with an indomitable instinct for survival. The word Knersvlakte literally means “grinding flat”, and pertains to the grinding of the quartz gravel when walked upon.
Says Gail Cleaver-Christie, CapeNature’s Executive Director of Conservation Management, “This is a truly wonderful achievement for conservation in South Africa. The diversity and high numbers of endemic plant species (in the reserve) makes the Knersvlakte a region of international importance with research being done by both local and international botanists.”
The Knersvlakte, about a three-hour drive north of Cape Town, has long been recognised as a priority region for plant conservation. Though most people traveling on the N7 highway will think this region is a vast, flat desert-like area with very little vegetation, a surprise awaits them when they stop to look between the white quartz pebbles. There are about 1 500 plant species, with 190 endemic species, of which 155 are threatened with extinction according to the IUCN’s Red-list of species in the area. Experts say some of these plants are extremely vulnerable to climate change.
Botanists are intrigued by the biodiversity of the area. Says Cleaver-Christie, “In the last five years, the number of endemic plant species has increased from 138 to 186, which is an indicator of active research and interest in the Knersvlakte. New species are still being discovered.”
The vegetation is uniquely adapted to the harsh weather and dry conditions of the area. The Knersvlakte is home to plants like bababoudjies (Argyroderma), krapogies (Oophytum oviforme) and tuim-en-vinger (Mesembryanthemum digitata).
The reserve area is owned by WWF-SA through the funding of the LHSKT and is managed by CapeNature with an advisory board comprising of SANBI, CapeNature and local landowners.
Says Natasha Wilson, WWF-SA’s Programme Manager: Land Programme, “Much like the wider West Coast area being a draw card for the blankets of brightly coloured wildflowers in September, the beauty of the Knersvlakte is that these delicate plants are on display all year round. They’re offset exquisitely against the crisp white quartz as if they have just popped up through a scattering of snow.”
Minister of Local Government, Environment Affairs and Development Planning, Mr Anton Bredell, proudly supports the work of the role players involved in getting the area proclaimed.
Says Minister Bredell, ““The Western Cape Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning will always, where possible, support partnerships that work together to conserve our biological heritage for future generations. Conservation is not only necessary; it is simply the right thing to do.
“Congratulations to all the entities involved in making this new conservation area possible.”