Invasive alien plants have once again been a major driver of wildfires in the Overberg during the current fire season.

According to the Greater Overberg Fire Protection Association Project Coordinator, Pieter Steenkamp, invasive species have increased fuel loads, and thereby also the intensity at which wildfires burn. Due to the increased fuel loads, fire breaks were also insufficient to stop some of the Overberg’s wildfires during the summer fire season. He said an integrated fire management approach is necessary, which includes among others, fire breaks, fuel load reduction, controlled burns and alien clearing.

Steenkamp was speaking at the Agulhas Biodiversity Initiative (ABI) Partners’ meeting, held close to Napier on Thursday, 3 March. Invasive aliens were once again highlighted as one of the major concerns in the Overberg. Wildfires in the veld where invasive vegetation dominated posed an even greater risk to life, property and livelihoods.

Wetland conservation was also highlighted during the meeting. According to Kirsty Robinson of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), around half of South Africa’s wetlands are severely degraded and almost beyond repair. Nearly half of the remaining wetlands are considered critically endangered.

ICLEI is driving a project to raise awareness around wetland conservation in 11 municipalities across South Africa, including the Overberg. Vital wetlands such as the Nuwejaars Wetland Ecosystem are situated in the Overberg region.

The project is aiming to increase capacity to manage wetlands, and to better integrate wetlands and other biodiversity into municipal development and disaster risk management. A detailed action plan will be compiled to help the process.

ABI partners also discussed the biosphere model, as a potential model for ABI to replicate. There are currently eight biosphere reserves in South Africa, according to Willem Botha, Chair of the Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve.

He said the model provides an internationally-recognised structure which increases the chance of funding support. The Western Cape government also provides funding support to biosphere reserves.

ABI is currently constituted as a voluntary association, offering free membership to partners keen to support biodiversity conservation in the Overberg.