Just how many of us know what a jewel we have in the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve (KBR) and how much we owe to those who had the foresight and the passion to safeguard our environmental heritage for posterity?

It was their inspiration and effort that started the ball rolling, but it was never meant to be a done deal; this conservation project will always remain a work in progress, whether in terms of management or, indeed, expansion. And this is where Rooiels, and perhaps you, come in…

In 1971, UNESCO launched the International Man and Biosphere Programme (MAB), the aim of which was the establishment of a global network of Biosphere Reserves, which would manage natural ecosystems, so that they could remain sustainable in the face of potential threats, including climate change and human encroachment. In line with this goal, South Africa has declared 10 Biosphere Reserves to date, starting with the KBR in 1998.

This reserve stretches all along the Western Cape coastline from Gordon’s Bay to the Bot River Estuary and inland to Elgin and Grabouw, encompassing an area of close to 100 000 ha and extending into the coastal marine environment.

It is divided into three zones: the Core Zone, where entire ecosystems, including vegetation, fauna, water sources and geological structures are protected by law, with very low human activity (included are the Stony Point Seabird Breeding Colony, the Betty’s Bay Marine Reserve and the Harold Porter National Botanical Gardens); the Buffer Zone, where certain low-impact and low-density human activity is permitted, such as the Kleinmond Mountain Reserve, including hiking trails, and farmlands like Lamloch; and the Transition Zone, where a certain amount of managed urban development may occur, as in the villages of Kleinmond, Betty’s Bay, Pringle Bay and Rooiels. These small communities represent a transition towards the more environmentally focused parts of the reserve.

The Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve Company (KBRC) is a co-ordinating, registered NPO which incorporates representation from the municipalities of Cape Town, Overstrand, Overberg and Theewaterskloof, as well as CapeNature (the managing entity) and the Department of the Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF). According to the Rev Tim Attwell, Chairperson of the Kogelberg Branch of the Botanical Society of South Africa and Board member of the KBRC, this protected area lies at the very epicentre of the Cape Floral Kingdom, with the greatest diversity of species anywhere in the world (sorry, Amazon!).

“It’s fynbos on steroids,” he chuckles. “A greater proliferation of species is found here than in the Table Mountain National Park, and it is therefore absolutely critical that it be kept as free of human interference as possible.”

There is a problem, though, which those originally responsible for demarcating the KBR didn’t foresee. It involves the differentiation between Buffer and Transition zones, especially along the coastal plain between mountain and sea. But environmentalists had a major wake-up call a couple of years ago, when a property developer indicated a desire to buy up much of the land between Betty’s Bay and Pringle Bay south of the R44 to create gated villages, holiday houses and retirement complexes.

“Fortunately, Dr Allan Heydorn, former CEO of WWF-SA, and Ursula Huyssen took up the cudgels and when the Brodie family, which has strong links to this area, was approached, they agreed to buy up the disputed land and have it registered as a Contract Nature Reserve (CNR), now known as the Brodie Link, under the ownership of the WWF-SA and the management of CapeNature,” recounts Tim.

“Some years later, another donor, Mr Simon Marais, made the necessary resources available to expand this ecological corridor to include Hangklip Peak above Pringle Bay.” Together, the two tracts of land now form the Hangklip Nature Reserve, or Hangklip Ecological Corridor. Small monuments to the memory of Bernard Brodie and Simon Marais can be found in the Reserve.

As Dr Heydorn puts it: “An important part of the management of Biosphere Reserves is the establishment of ecological corridors aimed at keeping ecosystems healthy, protecting their biological diversity and ensuring habitats remain connected. In this way, vital environmental services such as the provision of clean water, air and soil, are also safeguarded. Ecological corridors are equally important as migration routes for the many forms of wildlife within living and interactive ecosystems.”

WWF-SA now owns this permanently protected conservation area of almost 1 000 ha, known as the Hangklip Ecological Corridor, which is managed by CapeNature as part of the KBR. However, the job is still not done. Dr Heydorn again: “The question remains whether only one formally recognised ecological corridor between the mountain highlands and the sea in the entire coastal region of the KBR is adequate. The natural processes of land/sea interaction through freshwater run-off, nutrient inputs, tidal penetration in estuaries and atmospheric precipitation, are the ecological driving forces in coastal environments. Are there other areas which need to be afforded similar protection as is the case in the Hangklip Ecological Corridor?”

The answer is, indeed, there are. It has become evident that an area surrounding Rooiels, between the Kogelberg Mountain Range and what is known as Klein Hangklip and the Two Sisters Peaks, and then on to the coastal plate is a highly sensitive ecological area, where, horror of horrors, there are currently 12 private smallholdings on the market. The Core Zone of the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve ends at the Rooiels River and as Tim describes the area under potential threat, “Apart from the two mountain ranges, there is a wetland valley, as well as the Rooiels River, which has remained pretty free of contaminants of any kind and numerous water courses running down the steep slopes of various mountain peaks. Fortunately, there is very little alien infestation present.

“It is a well-functioning and diverse ecosystem where plant and animal genetic transfer can take place and which successfully connects the mountain and coastal environments. Amongst the birds and animals which are known to inhabit this space are the Cape leopard, the caracal, marsh terrapin, honey badger, klipspringers, tortoises, mongooses and the rare Cape Rock Jumper, as well as several baboon troops, of course.”

As in the case of the Hangklip Ecological Corridor, the challenge now is to inspire philanthropic, environmentally-passionate individuals or organisations to buy the 12 plots before they can be put to a use which might break the ecological continuity and possibly endanger its species diversity. “The idea would again be to register this as a CNR under the management of CapeNature and to categorise it as a Buffer Zone, suitable for limited human activity, like hiking. There are a couple of existing houses there, which could be used for self-catering holiday purposes, and perhaps even an environmental education centre.”

The residents of Rooiels are deeply committed to conservation and, according to Tim, are one hundred percent behind the project, so in February this year, assisted by Mr Steve Gildenhuys of CapeNature and Mr Rupert Koopman, Conservation Director of the Botanical Society of South Africa, he made a presentation to the CapeNature Protected Area Expansion and Stewardship Review Committee for the development of the proposed Rooiels Ecological Corridor.

The response from the committee was very enthusiastic and the various proponents were beyond excited when they were subsequently notified that the committee was recommending that the area be designated a Contract Nature Reserve. This is a legally recognised entity which enjoys the same status as a Provincial Nature Reserve.

So now the ball is once again in their court. Tim estimates that the total market value of the 12 properties could be in the region of R30 million. He underlines the fact that there will be no question of expropriation, but equally, inflated prices will not be considered. Clearly, though, time is of the essence.

If the Coronavirus has taught us anything, it is the importance of respecting and conserving our natural environment and, indeed, mending the shattered connection between ourselves and nature. As the Brodie family, Simon Marais and other philanthropists have done in the past, this is our chance to leave an intact heritage to enrich the lives of our children’s children in perpetuity.

For further information contact Tim Attwell at attwells@mweb.co.za

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