Call locally and internationally to protect our beautiful natural heritage, Newsline

Val Boje

BIODIVERSITY has been in the spotlight this week, with the virtual Summit on Biodiversity on Wednesday on the sidelines of the 75th UN General Assembly (UNGA75).

The summit saw a call to action on climate change and the destruction of the natural environment, with president of the UN General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, stating that “our existence on this planet depends entirely on our ability to protect the natural world around us”.

Yet, he said, despite the importance of biodiversity, the world lost 13 million hectares of forest every year, and one million species were at risk of extinction.

“We also risk jeopardising food security, water supplies, livelihoods, and our ability to fight diseases and face extreme events,” he said.

The summit highlighted the need for urgent action at the highest levels in support of a post-2020 global biodiversity framework to be adopted at COP15 (conference of the parties) taking place in China next year.

Among the speakers were global political leaders, environmental activists, and youth leaders.

In his address, President Cyril Ramaphosa said even as we prioritise economic revival and reconstruction post-Covid-19, “we must maintain our collective commitment to environmental conservation”.

Ramaphosa said South Africa was ranked the third most biodiverse country in the world, with unique species and ecosystems found nowhere else.

Biodiversity also came under the spotlight locally with the National Press Club networking event – the first since lockdown – hosted by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) at the Pretoria National Botanical Garden – which is also the head office of Sanbi – on Wednesday.

In an address, Chris Willis, chief director of national botanical gardens, explained that SANBI, which reports to the Department of Environmental Affairs, was established in 2004 and has control over 10 national botanical gardens, showcasing South Africa’s wide range of indigenous plants, insects and small mammals.

The country has nine biomes (broad groupings of vegetation types that share similar ecological characteristics) and is home to more than 22 000 indigenous flora from around 230 families, including 10% of the world’s flowering species.

As an example, Willis said, Table Mountain, with over 1 500 species, represented more flora than found in the whole of the UK.

Call locally and internationally to protect our beautiful natural heritage, Newsline
The Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden is nestled at the foot of Table Mountain in Cape Town. The garden is one of ten National Botanical Gardens covering five of South Africa’s six different biomes and administered by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). Picture: Ayanda Ndamane /African News Agency(ANA)

Kirstenbosch – established in 1913 – is the place to see the country’s unique fynbos, while the Karoo Desert garden has one of the largest collections of indigenous succulent plants and Hantam in the Northern Cape is a treasure with its spectacular showing of flowering bulbs in spring.

The garden is home to half of South Africa’s tree species with lawns and 50 hectares devoted to developed indigenous gardens, representing a variety of biomes, more than 200 bird

species and small mammals such as dassies.

Willis said the garden was there for the public to enjoy, especially suitable for relaxation with the current restrictions around Covid-19, but plays a vital role in biodiversity management , research, building knowledge and education.

Throughout this month, Sanbi is hosting its first spring festival to draw visitors to the botanical gardens and the zoo, and this also coincides with national garden day on October 11.

Both the garden and zoo are open again, with the usual Covid-19 protocols in place. The popular park run is not operational yet, but it and other organised events will start once permissible.

● Entry to the garden is adults: R40. Students: R25. Pupils: R15. Pre-scholars (children under 6 years): Free. Entrance to the zoo is R110 for adults and R80 for children.