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Conservation of South Africa's fynbos plants

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Status: Current

Scientists are investigating how pressure on water resources impacts on the Western Cape's unique 'fine bush' habitat.

South Africa's Western Cape is a hotspot of biodiversity. Most of the nearly 9000 plant species found in its Cape Floristic Region exist nowhere else on earth. One of the region's most important habitats is the fynbos, meaning 'fine bush' in Afrikaans.

Rapid population growth and economic development are placing increasing demands upon water resources in the Western Cape, and there are now plans to take more water from the sandstone aquifers underlying important fynbos habitats. Very little is known about how this might affect the Cape flora, but the scientists' research has shown that soil moisture levels are crucial to the diversity of the habitat.

A team from The Open University is working in cooperation with the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) – Kirstenbosch; Cape Nature; and South African National Parks; to try and understand the ecohydrology of the fynbos.

The project is also providing training for field rangers, most of whom belong to historically disadvantaged groups.

So far 10 research sites have been established, where the potential impact of changes in water levels can be monitored. The results of their research will be disseminated to those involved in managing the fynbos, and it is intended to incorporate the research results into impact assessments and conservation management plans.

The fynbos project is also providing training for Cape Nature's field rangers, most of whom belong to historically disadvantaged groups. This helps them advance their careers, and also increases local capacity, by transferring skills and knowledge from the UK to South Africa.

The fynbos conservation project was launched with a grant from the Leverhulme Trust and is currently funded by the Darwin Initiative operated by the UK government's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Possibilities to extend the funding are being sought.

To find out more go to the Fynbos website.