Finding Gems Among Aliens

A pioneering alien vegetation clearing project at Vergelegen wine estate, about an hour away from Cape Town, has revealed a natural treasure of indigenous vegetation. 

Vergelegen is situated in the Cape Floral Kingdom – or fynbos, one of the richest floral regions of the world that’s the smallest and hottest of biodiversity hot spots. Alien vegetation uses 50 to 800 times more water than fynbos. 

The Vergelegen project is believed to be the largest private conservation programme in South Africa. It was initiated by estate owners Anglo American after a wildfire about two decades ago. Prior to purchasing the estate in 1987, more than 80% of the farm’s natural veld was invaded by pine on the higher slopes, with acacia and eucalyptus species in the low-land area. 

The rehabilitated area comprising 2,200 hectares (of the 3,000 hectare estate), consisting of mostly Boland granite fynbos, will be declared a private nature reserve, 

Some 15 hectares of critically endangered Lourensford Alluvium Fynbos and 105 hectares of critically endangered Swartland Shale Renosterveld have been uncovered to date on the farm. The International Union for Conservation of Nature categorises this vegetation as facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.

In the Western Cape, Lourensford Alluvium Fynbos originally extended over 6,000 hectares, but only 9% remains.
According to a specialist botanical consultant, the Lourensford Alluvium fynbos on Vergelegen constitutes probably the only realistic chance to conserve a significant portion of this vegetation type.
It consists of low-lying plains supporting low to medium dense shrubland with an underlying layer of short, grass-like herbaceous plants. Restios and asteraceous fynbos are dominant.

Swartland Shale Renosterveld originally extended over 495,000 hectares in the Western Cape, but only 8% of this remains. And less than 1% of the original area is currently protected. 

Some 151 known Red Data plant species occur within this vegetation type, with at least 35 endemic plant species.
This vegetation type consists of moderately undulating plains and valleys supporting low to moderately tall shrubland, with long slender leaves of varying canopy cover, as well as low, open shrubland dominated by renosterbos.

When this Vergelegen renosterveld area was surveyed previously, eight Red Data Book species and roughly 100 different plant species were identified. 

Vergelegen was also the first producer to be awarded BWI (Biodiversity and Wine Initiative) ‘Champion’ status in 2005. 
With its unique environment and as a result of good environmental practices, it was soon evident that many of the original species of wild animals were returning. 

Monthly bird counts have soared from 80 to around 142 species, and at least 500 different plant species have been recorded.

Working closely with Cape Nature, the estates will soon re-introduce rare geometric tortoises.

As one of many supporters of the Cape Leopard Trust, it monitors wildlife movement using infrared camera systems, and species such as the Cape mountain leopard, honey badgers, lynx, grey rhebok and spotted genet are regularly viewed on the footage. 

It’s an inspiring project that benefits locals and visitors alike. Join us – we’ll take you here.

Acknowledgment The Farmers’ Weekly and Cape Times 


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