(This article first appeared in the June 2014 E-newsletter of BirdLife South Africa. - Ed.)
In a remote corner of the Western Cape, as one travels from Piketberg to Elands Bay, lies the magical valley of Moutonshoek. This is a place that is home to many natural gems, but most importantly is the start of the Krom Antonies River, the lifeblood of the Verlorenvlei Estuary. The Krom Antonies River supplies 60 per cent of the water volume and 90 per cent of the water quality to the Verlorenvlei Estuary, an Important Bird & Biodiversity Area (IBA SA 103) and Ramsar site. Without this water supply and an ecologically healthy catchment, the Verlorenvlei Estuary might one day dry up, and so it is primarily for this reason that BirdLife South Africa has initiated Biodiversity Stewardship work in the valley.
The valley hosts a variety of threatened plants and animals. These include a new species of flower, Diascia caitliniae, which was found in the valley a few years ago and occurs nowhere else in the world! This secluded river also contains three threatened fish species, including the endangered Verlorenvlei Redfin, which is genetically distinct from the Berg River Redfin and therefore a new species found nowhere else in the world. The Cape Galaxias and Cape Kurper, both classified as Near Threatened, are also found in this river system. The valley is a great place for birdwatching and a number of birds have been recorded in the area, including Blue Crane, African Marsh Harrier, Lesser Kestrel and Martial and Verreauxs’ eagles.
Samantha Schroder, BirdLife South Africa’s Verlorenvlei Protected Areas Project Manager, has started the difficult, yet rewarding task of working with landowners in this valley to proclaim a Protected Environment. This particular model of Biodiversity Stewardship allows for the current farming practices to continue, and creates a mosaic of conserved and productive land. Through this initiative, the farmers, some of whose families have worked this land since the 1800s, will become the custodians of the biodiversity of this mountain catchment while ensuring the sustainability of their own livelihoods. Thus, although we focus on conserving our birds, the conservation work of the IBA Programme staff in the Western Cape will also benefit a variety of other plants, animals and people.
Dale Wright, Regional Conservatiion Manager, Western Cape Province