Sand plain fynbos conservation : the Kenilworth Racecourse case study

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The current extent of Sand Plain Fynbos and threats to its survival are examined, with a view to proposing effective means of managing areas of high conservation priority. Extensive depletion of Sand Plain Fynbos has resulted from agricultural development, urbanisation and its susceptibility to invasion by introduced woody plant species. The need to conserve this veld type is apparent in that only 0.05% of the original Cape Flats Sand Plain Fynbos still survives within scattered refugia. A mere 3.8% of this already minute fraction is represented in proclaimed nature reserves, clearly illustrating the neglected conservation status of this veld type. The majority of the remaining habitat owes its survival, albeit in various stages of degradation, to low impact land uses not related to conservation per se. The in-fields of the three racecourses on the Cape Flats in total comprise the land use supporting the largest area of Sand Plain Fynbos. This suggests the potential compatibility of such a land use with conservation in the longer term. Of the three racecourses, Kenilworth is the most important in terms of area, diversity and unprecedented numbers of threatened flora and fauna of the fynbos it supports. This provides a case study on which to base an assessment of the trends in species survival on small remnants. A historical backdrop to the isolation and degradation of the Kenilworth Racecourse and neighbouring remnants is provided. The predictions of conservation theory for the long-term viability of such small and isolated remnants are then reviewed. To determine the effects of recent events and processes on the conservation merits of Kenilworth Racecourse, species extinctions and turnover from 1950 to the present are determined for the flora and avifauna respectively. Past and current species checklists form the basis of this analysis. Causes of species loss are investigated by comparing the physical attributes and habitat preferences of the species present with those which have apparently become extinct locally. The influence of private landownership on the conservation security of Kenilworth Racecourse is of fundamental importance to its future conservation. In this respect, the likelihood of change in land use of the in-field fynbos, as well as the Racecourse area as a whole, is a crucial factor addressed in this study. The present and future operating requirements of the Racecourse Management are also determined and their likely effects on the natural system are assessed. The study establishes a need for conservation management at Kenilworth Racecourse. The approach adopted to achieve the ongoing conservation of the area is through the development of a Conservation Management Plan. The latter has been derived through reasoned and personal interaction with the Racecourse Management and is aimed towards integrating the needs of the Management with the ecological requirements for the natural system under its control. The creation of corridors to facilitate migration of biota, as well as the reintroduction of those species which have become extinct locally, are described as an adjunct to these proposals. The implementation of an organised burn programme is proposed as a management procedure to counteract species loss. Evaluation of initial success resulting from the Management Plan reveals that there is now an improved communication channel with the Management. This encompasses moral obligations for eradication of alien vegetation, abstention from further drainage of wetlands, prevention of future encroachment of parking within the natural system and an agreement to cease indiscriminate dumping of refuse material. A major constraint facing the conservation of the area is the reluctance of the Management to allow public interest groups direct involvement with monitoring and implementation of proposals presented within the Management Plan. The research findings and conservation management approach generated by the study are important because they have potential for promoting the long term conservation of analogous remnants, not only within the fynbos biome, but in other similar systems further afield. Although threats exist to the ongoing survival of Sand Plain Fynbos remnants, these should not prejudice their selection as areas worthy of sound conservation management. Remnants have inherent value as refugia. They are also of potential importance as sites for reintroduction of species that have become extinct locally, as educational resources and as relatively low-maintenance open spaces within the urban landscape.

Bibliography: pages 114-122.