Posted on the 29th May 2015

Harrier habitat conserved and sponsors: Renosterveld research centre opened!
(This report originally appeared in – Ed.)

The brain-child of Dr Odette Curtis (2nd right), the Overberg Lowlands Conservation Trust's aim is to purchase and conserve the last remaining patches of the highly threatened Renosterveld habitat in the Overberg (southern part of the South Africa's Western Cape).

Why is this important for harriers?well this habitat is that preferred by Black Harriers in the Western Cape. Research by Odette 10 years ago revealed that birds breeding there require 100 ha of pristine renosterveld (= rhino fields), in which to breed. They forage over it, display over and breed in it. However, where it is fragmented they tend to leave or fail to breed - so it important that it is an intact patch too.

The sad side of the story is that an incredible 95% of this original vegetation type has been lost under the farmers' plough in the Overberg and much of the remainder has been degraded through over-stocking and grazing by livestock. That only 5% remains today in highly fragmented patches in the rich soils of the Overberg means that what once supported an estimated 1500 pairs of Black Harriers, today supports about 60 pairs. This is why the purchase and management of the "Haarwegskloof" farm where the centre is situated is so critical to biodiversity in general and to the Black Harrier in particular.

The centre is open to visitors but must be pre-booked through:

Not only is it important for harriers but as Odette's work is discovering this area is an unappreciated biodiversity hotspot for rare and endemic flowers. In the fragments remaining she has found a wealth of flowering plants including no less than five new to science! Three have been named after her in honour of her work in this field.

Part of the largest remaining intact tract of Renosterveld in the world. This patch, purchased by WWF and managed by the Overberg Lowlands Conservation Trust is the home of at least 2 pairs of Black Harriers (a nest was found in the centre of this photo) and possibly two other pairs. Further research is planned to find and follow these birds.

















Your sponsorship

Many of those of you who helped sponsor the Black Harrier research agreed to allow me to make a donation to the research centre. We were able to donate R34 000 to the Renosterveld Centre and in recognition of your donation one of the rooms is named the "Black Harrier Room" (above).

Inside, Odette's team has also honoured your input with a board highlighting the sponsors who contributed under "Rob Simmons Black Harrier Group" Those of you who contributed included:

Jakkalsfontein Private Reserve (Steyn Marais),
Birdlife South Africa bird clubs - Inkwazi (Hyde Garret, Sven Carlsson),
Tygerberg Bird club (Brigid Crewe, Brian Vanderwalt),
Wits bird club (Lance Robinson, Andy Featherstone),
Niall Perrins,
Chris Cory,
Hanneline Smit-Robinson,
James Smith,
Gisela Ortner

A big thank you for adding a small piece to the initiative to conserve this species and the habitat it requires.
More on our tagged birds in the next blog....

Rob Simmons
(For Sophie, Francois and Bea)
Black Harrier Species Guardians
FitzPatrick Institute

The Renosterveld team: (L-R) Dirk van Papendorp (Chair), Dr Sam Petersen (WWF), Dr Odette Curtis, (Director: Overberg Lowlands Conservation Trust), Zaitoon Rabaney (Botanical Society of Southern Africa)























(Black Harrier images by Carin Malan of BirdLife Overberg)


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