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Wolwekraal, dynamic interface of people and conservation

By Sue and Richard Dean*, Wolwekraal Conservation and Research Organisation
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Wolwekraal Nature Reserve is a government-gazetted protected area adjacent to the desert village of Prince Albert in the Western Cape.

It is also a Stewardship site co-managed by CapeNature and the Wolwekraal Conservation and Research Organisation (WCRO).

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Sandy plains on Wolwekraal Nature Reserve with the Swartberg mountains in the distance

The objectives of WCRO are conservation, environmental education and research. A partnership with SAEON assists WCRO achieve its research objectives. These are to build an understanding of how the environment and biota are responding to climate and land-use changes, what influences human attitudes to the natural environment, and how recovery of damaged environments can be facilitated under arid conditions.

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Rare succulents on quartzite pebble substrate along the Dorps River on Wolwekraal Nature Reserve

Although small (120 ha), Wolwekraal Nature Reserve is very diverse. Habitats include Ecca mudstone plains and hills, sand and silty plains, heuweltjies, a 2 km stretch of non-seasonal river and a silcrete-cemented pebble bed plain. Archaeological and historical uses of the landscape have left indelible marks.

Surrounding land use includes sheep and goat farming, a gravel road, a low-density housing estate and the sewage works and solid waste disposal site. These activities influence the biota through influx of people, feral animals, dust, solid and liquid waste, and upstream water extraction.

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Saasveld MTech students complete restoration trials on Wolwekraal in July 2017

Intern Yondela Nqadala discusses ecological restoration trials with Terene Koster, a sociology student from the University of Cape Town

Wolwekraal management welcomes researchers

The reserve exemplifies the problems for biodiversity conservation in a changing world and provides many opportunities for research in the social sciences, archaeology, hydrology, sedimentology and ecology. It is an ideal platform for transdisciplinary research at an interface of people and conservation, a typical example of a Karoo town.

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Yondela excavates teabags buried on Wolwekraal as part of an international investigation of decay rates under various climatic conditions

Yondela (wearing hat) with a school group on the koppies on Wolwekraal Nature Reserve                                                                  

Ongoing studies already in progress at Wolwekraal Nature Reserve include 72 vegetation plots for tracking plant community change, two medium-scale rehabilitation and litter decay trials, phenology and plant population monitoring, and a study of the effects of sewage effluent on a desert ecosystem.

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School group learning how plants clean waste water on Wolwekraal Nature Reserve

Wolwekraal management welcomes researchers (see website of Wolwekraal Conservation and Research Organisation http://www.wcro.co.za), and those interested should contact Sue or Richard Dean.

* Richard and Sue Dean are research associates of SAEON.

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