The Natal Wild Banana Strelitzia nicolai is one of the threatened plants in this region
In collaboration with the Museum of East London (of Coelacanth fame) and the Strandloper Board a number of projects in South Africa are being funded. Foremost amongst them is the continued development of the Strandloper eco-trail.
The coastal and dune forests and the estuaries of the Strandloper Trail are some of the more exceptional habitats in South Africa but they are seriously threatened by unsustainable exploitation arising, directly, from human population pressure. This route is popular amongst eco-tourist and hikers but their impact on the environment also needs to be managed sensitively.
Tree ferns such as Cyathea dregei are under threat – Image credit Karen Wiebe/Wikipedia
Coastal dune forests dominated by the endemic Natal wild banana, (Strelitzia nicolai) are being protected for future generations by the local eco-tourism board. Meanwhile Eastern Cape cycads, (Encephalartos altensteinii) and valley bush euphorbias (Euphorbia grandidens) are under serious threat from introduced highly invasive competitors. Common sugarbush, (Protea caffra) an endemic upland species threatened by land clearance and grazing. Meerkats (Suricata suricatta) also live in the Strandloper eco trail region.
One World Wildlife is also funding a project aimed at reducing the impact of introduced plants in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. A number of highly invasive and domineering alien species such as the Australian Port-Jackson Willow (Acacia saligna) are reducing the numbers and diversity of the unique South African flora to the point where the native plant communities will be unable to recover. It is estimated that the situation will be irreversible within three years, hence the necessity of acting now. These forests are unlike what is normally described as ‘forest’ containing tree-like Euphorbias (e.g. Euphorbia grandidens), primitive cycads (Encephalartos altensteinii), tree ferns (Cyathea dregei) and tree-aloes (Aloe barberae). We have funded a working group that will address the scale of the problem and then report back to us. We anticipate providing the resources for the removal of non-native plants in the most threatened areas and this should, with continued monitoring of the situation, enable the local flora to recover. These efforts will also provide local employment opportunities.
One World Wildlife is funding an environmental awareness programme through local education centres and we are also providing the resources they require in order to function effectively. This project fully involves local people and their representatives from a number of communities, all of who agree on the importance of protecting their environment. The quality of their lives depends upon its more sensitive and sustainable exploitation and in many instances their livelihoods do too.
It is envisaged that our contribution will result in increased employment through the recognition by the local people that the Strandloper Trail represents a means of generating income for themselves and their communities.
One World Wildlife is also committed to providing the resources and facilities for further education that will enable guides and other persons employed along the trail and in the education centres to maximise their potential. The net results will be more informed employees who will be in a stronger position to provide the educational requirements of the local communities living in the area and beyond. As a result of the obvious success of this conservation model we are keen to apply it in similar locations throughout the world. In addition we have offered the resources to fund an archaeological research project as part of the development of the Strandloper Trail.
The Trail is not just rich in plant and animal life but also has a long history of human occupation too. Several archaeological sites of international importance are situated along it. It may just transpire that anatomically modern people actually evolved in this region.
One World Wildlife has committed itself to many other environmental projects in South Africa. All involve the local communities and the primary intention of them all is to see the environment and its resident species of plants and animals conserved as well as to provide important employment opportunities for currently impoverished groups of people.