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 the 24th of September 2014, WWF South Africa, CapeNature and the Leslie Hill Succulent Karoo Trust announced the declaration of the new Knersvlakte Nature Reserve during a celebratory event at the historical Griqua farm, Ratelgat, near Vanrhynsdorp.
The Knersvlakte is an extensive dry plain in the centre of the Succulent Karoo hotspot bounded on the east by the Bokkeveld Mountains. Fields of white quartz pebbles cover the gently rolling hills of the area and are associated with unique dwarf succulent plants. The area is extremely rich in plant life , with a total of 1324 species, 266 of which are Succulent Karoo endemics. Within the hotspot, this priority area has the greatest percentage of threatened endemics with 128 species being listed on the IUCN’s Red List. Experts say some of these plants are extremely vulnerable to climate change.
The Knersvlakte is about a threehour drive north of Cape Town, and has long been recognised as a priority region for plant conservation. The reserve – the first to be declared in the Western Cape in 20 years – has been proclaimed in terms of the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act.
The new 85 500 hectare reserve falls within the Succulent Karoo region. Located north of the Olifants River, it stretches from Klawer in the Western Cape to just south of Kliprand in the Northern Cape. 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.
Dr Morné du Plessis, CEO of WWF South Africa, commented: “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.”
Western Cape Minister of Local Government, Environment Affairs and Development Planning, Mr Anton Bredell, said he was proud of the work of the role players involved in getting the area proclaimed: “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.”
Gail Cleaver-Christie, CapeNature’s Executive Director of Conservation Management, said: “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. In the last five years, the number of known 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 duim-en-vinger (Mesembryanthemum digitata).
The reserve area is owned by WWF-SA, through funding from the Leslie Hill Succulent Karoo Trust, and is managed by CapeNature with an advisory board comprising of SANBI, CapeNature and local landowners. Natasha Wilson, WWF-SA’s Land Programme Manager, said: “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.”