Freshwater Corridor Stewardship in the Greater Cederberg

Geographical location:

Africa/Madagascar > Southern Africa > Republic of South Africa

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Summary

South Africa’s Cape Floral Kingdom, at the southernmost part of Africa, is an area of outstanding biodiversity, containing remnants of the lowland fynbos landscape and important wetland sites. It is home to numerous significant plant species and is also an exceptional area for many endemic and endangered freshwater fish.

The expansion of protected areas through the establishment of biodiversity corridors is a key mechanism to mitigate the effects of global climate change at a landscape scale.

This project aims to expand the protected areas through the establishment of core biodiversity corridors within CapeNature’s Greater Cederberg Biodiversity Corridor - (GCBC) by delivering a core biodiversity corridor capable of conserving priority terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and species.

Background

Human needs have been, and continue to be, satisfied at the expense of altered land use, climate, biogeochemical cycles and species welfare. As a result, biodiversity is declining a thousand times faster now than at rates found in the fossil record, raising concerns about consequences of such loss for ecosystem functioning, the provision of ecosystem services and human well being.

Increasing evidence suggests that freshwater biodiversity is amongst the most endangered in the world. Over 20% of the global freshwater fish species have gone extinct, or become threatened or endangered, and extinction rates are projected to be 5 times higher than for terrestrial fauna. Similar downward trends are documented for freshwater habitats in South Africa: the National Spatial Biodiversity Assessment found that almost 50% of the freshwater ecosystems associated with main rivers are critically threatened, a proportion much higher than those reported for the country’s terrestrial ecosystems (only 5%). If the freshwater biodiversity crisis is to be reversed to maintain the valuable goods and services that freshwater ecosystems provide, there is an urgent need for a concerted focus on freshwater conservation.

The Greater Cederberg Biodiversity Corridor is an existing conservation initiative aimed at conserving a priority area in the Cape Floral Kingdom through maintaining or restoring connectivity across the landscape. This area contains many of the last remnants of lowland fynbos vegetation types. It is also of exceptional conservation value in terms of its aquatic biodiversity. It is a southern African centre of endemism for freshwater fish species, and is therefore of international and biogeographic importance. No other river system in South Africa contains as many endemic fish species, and all of these endemic species are listed by IUCN, making this an endemic hotspot for freshwater fish.

A large focus of the Greater Cederberg Biodiversity Corridor initiative is on achieving voluntary stewardship agreements with private land owners in the form of conservation areas, biodiversity agreements and contract nature reserves.

The introduction of more benign land-use strategies and the restoration of degraded lands in key sites are also important in achieving the goal of this initiative. To date, stewardship has largely focussed on terrestrial conservation priorities and strategies. Given the importance of this area to aquatic biodiversity, there is an urgent need to expand these terrestrial-focussed strategies to include considerations of aquatic ecosystems and species.

There have been a number of recent complementary aquatic studies in the area which have identified conservation requirements for conserving aquatic species and habitats, from broad regional scale conservation plans and ecological flow requirements, to finer scale species management plans. A stewardship programme aimed at implementing the recommendations of these studies would greatly enhance and coordinate aquatic conservation in this region.

There are a number of factors that contribute to habitat degradation, all of which could be addressed through a stewardship programme. These factors iinclude:

- Introduction of invasive alien fish;
- Introduction and spread of non-indigenous plants;
- Removal of riparian vegetation for agricultural crops;
- Draining of wetlands for agricultural crops;
- Channel modification (bulldozing, weirs, causeways);
- Grazing in wetlands and the riparian zone; and
- Point source pollution from fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides.

Objectives

- Secure the conservation of priority terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in core biodiversity corridors of CapeNature (GCBC).

- Embed and align the project within the management structures and strategic directions of CapeNature.

- Implement a corridor formation process while advising, supporting and building capacity among the community to effectively manage priority biodiversity.

Solution

The project will be integrated into management structures and strategic directions of CapeNature, the statutory body responsible for biodiversity in the region.

It will support the implementation of a corridor while providing support and advice to the local community to effectively manage priority biodiversity.

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