The Agricultural Research Council (ARC) / University of the Western Cape (UWC) unit in collaboration with Conservation South Africa (CSA) are developing a three-tier veld assessment method for Renosterveld in the Three Peaks Conservancy in the Kamiesberg. The method incorporates ecological, agricultural and socio-economic indicators and is developed with active participation of members of the Biodiversity and Red Meat Initiative.
The Level One assessment focuses on an integrated monitoring system for monitoring current rangeland condition at a land user level. The focus will be to collect information on selected indicators to monitor environmental change.
Level Two assessment focuses on an in intermediate level and will be monitored by BRI compliance officers. Rangeland monitoring at this level will be done monthly to monitor rainfall, livestock numbers and ephemeral plant production.
Monitoring at Level Three will focus on plant diversity, plant production, ecosystem processes, nutrient cycling and will be conducted by specialists in the field of ecological assessments. Much progress has been made with the level one monitoring. Indicators that have been identified by the BRI members are plant species richness, percentage palatable species, vegetation cover, grazing intensity, soil condition and livestock condition.
The vegetation and soil assessments are done within a defined 4x4m assessment area in a patch of veld, marked off by the measured rope. When testing the method in the veld with participants the indicators around plant species richness, palatable species, and vegetation cover worked very well in the field test and yielded robust and comparable results. Grazing intensity proved quite subjective in the field test, as participants understood the descriptions differently.
The ARC team plans to include photographs of different grazing intensities on plants as references in the final monitoring tool. Soil condition proved most difficult to rigorously measure using the draft scorecard.
After a workshop which was held on 23 May 2013 , it was decided to try accumulative points for this indicator. Given a list of five positive signs of soil health on the score card, each item, if present, could be allocated 1 point. Given a list of five negative signs of soil health on the score card, each item, if present, could be allocated -1 point. The total out of five for this indicator would then be the total number of positive signs out of five, minus the total number of negative signs out of 5. This alternative needs further field testing. Livestock condition will be tested using a subjective method used by the Department of Agriculture and will need further field testing with the farmers.
The location of the Three Peaks Conservancy Area falls within the Kamiesberg Mountains Uplands. This includes commonage and private land within the Kamiesberg Municipality boundaries and the Namakwa District Municipality. The Namakwa District’s Bioregional Plan indicates the Kamiesberg Uplands as a Critical Biodiversity Area 1(CBA1). This means that is a priority area, and is irreplaceable in terms of meeting biodiversity pattern targets.