Growing the Future: An Introduction to the Botanical Education Trust

Written by Charles and Julia Botha

Why is the Botanical Education Trust so important?

South Africa is home to one of the richest floras on earth. It has more than 10% of the world’s flowering plant species and is the only country that has a whole plant kingdom that falls entirely within its borders. The Cape Floral Kingdom has more than 20% of the African continent’s plant species, despite covering less than 0.5% of its total land area. The Cape Peninsula alone has more plant species than the whole of the United Kingdom. However, many South African plant species are under threat. Populations of threatened species are lost underneath housing development from a rapidly growing human population. They are outcompeted by alien invasive plants or collected en mass for the medicinal plant trade.

What is the Botanical Education Trust?

The Botanical Education Trust was founded to educate people about the importance of South Africa’s diverse flora and biodiversity in view of these challenges. The organisation operates under the auspices of the Botanical Society of South Africa. It is fully registered as a Trust and is audited annually. In addition, it has been approved as a PBO (Public Benefit Organisation) and has been granted exemption from donations tax and estate duty by SARS. This includes a Section 18A exemption certificate which permits any donor to treat donations to the Trust as a tax deductible expense.

Neil Gerber, a past president of the Society of Chartered Accountants, is the Honorary Treasurer of the Trust and Professor Julia Botha is the Secretary. Some of the country’s leading botanists serve as Trustees on the Botanical Education Trust’s Board, namely Professor Braam Van Wyk, Professor of Plant Science at the University of Pretoria, Dr Neil Crouch from the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and Dr Hugh Glen.  Zaitoon Rabaney, Executive Director of the Botanical Society of South Africa and horticulturalist Chris Dalzell also serve as Trustees. The Trust is chaired by Charles Botha, a semi-retired businessman.

What does it do?

The objectives of the Botanical Education Trust are:

  1. To conserve and promote the indigenous flora of South Africa.
  2. To advance education and research in the field of our indigenous flora.
  3. To fund literature pertaining to indigenous flora and factors that influence it.

What projects has the Trust funded?  

Last year the Botanical Education Trust celebrated its 10th Anniversary. Since it was founded the Trust has awarded grants to the value of more than R865,000. One of the projects supported was an environmental education programme based at the National Botanical Gardens which encouraged learners to make informed environmental decisions and educated them about conservation. The Botanical Education Trust has also funded taxonomic studies, threatened and data deficient species research and research on biological control of alien invasive plants. In addition, funding has also been contributed towards the publication of important botanical literature.

In 2017 the Trust received 22 applications, five of which were selected for funding, receiving a total of R113,000. Sharon Louw (Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife) received an award to study the effects of fire on the Common Sugarbush Protea caffra. Findings from this research will be used to inform best management practice for the Protea Savanna system, which will ultimately benefit the flora as a whole. Dr Francis Siebert, of North-West University, received funding for her project on different forb species in semi-arid savanna. In this ecosystem forbs represent a vital food source for a variety of different insects including butterflies.

The Mistbelt Forests of Kwa-Zulu Natal have long been exploited and only an estimated six patches of primary forest are now left.  Those which remain are now also highly threatened by alien invasive plants. Dr Jolene Fisher from the University of the Witwatersrand has received funding to monitor the extent, diversity and quality of these forests. Dr Marina Koekemoer from SANBI works to help people identify South Africa’s fascinating and diverse flora. A grant has been made towards her publication of the Complete Plant Families of southern Africa. Natasha Visser, from the University of Johannesburg, also received funding to carry out a taxonomic study of the southern African genus Thesium. This genus has been identified as a high priority for taxonomic revision. This work is of vital importance in advancing knowledge about South Africa’s unique and highly biodiverse flora.

The Botanical Education Trust would like to thank all donors who have made these grants possible. We thank you for your support.

How can you help?

Donations, no matter how small, will serve conservation in perpetuity because only interest on capital is used and all donations are capitalised. Even if contributions are not immediate, legacies left behind will be to the permanent benefit of our indigenous flora.

Payments can be made to:

Botanical Society of South Africa – Durban Coastal Branch

Nedbank, Durban Branch Code – 135226

Account Number – 1352029901

Please state clearly on all donations that it is for the Botanical Education Trust and fax the deposit slip to 086 651 8969 or email to botsoc-kzn@mweb.co.za. Payments can also be made via the donate button on the KZN Coastal Branch website.

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BotSoc Launches ‘Learning About Cycads’

Written by Zoë Poulsen

Cycads are one of the oldest surviving plant groups on the planet. They have been around for more than 350 million years, surviving multiple mass extinctions and a plethora of environmental changes. They have been around since the time of the dinosaurs. Today they are sadly one the world’s most threatened plant groups. Of South Africa’s 38 cycad species (37 species of Encephalartos and one Stangeria species), three are now Extinct in the Wild, twelve are now Critically Endangered, four are Endangered, nine are Vulnerable and seven are Near Threatened on the Red List of South African plants. The greatest threat is illegal poaching and collection from the wild to supply the global horticultural trade.

Top: Encephartos princeps (Vulnerable) Above: Encephalartos woodii (Extinct in the wild, only known from male clones).

On 12th March, the Botanical Society launched their new educational resource ‘Learning About Cycads: A Guide to Environmental Activities’. This beautiful publication was produced in collaboration with the Western Cape Primary Schools Programme and funded by the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust. The book encourages learners to understand the age of Cycads, their life cycle and biology as well as conceptualising Cycads as threatened species that need to be conserved in perpetuity. This new publication is in line with BotSoc’s mandate through Target 14 of the National Strategy of Plant Conservation, which speaks to “The importance of plant diversity and the need for its conservation to be incorporated into communication, education and public awareness programmes”.

Top: Dr Farieda Khan, President of the Botanical Society introduces the event. Above: Debbie Schafer, Minister of Education for the Western Cape was the keynote speaker.

The launch event was held at Moyo’s at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. Dr Farieda Khan, President of the Botanical Society made the official welcome and opened the event. Comments Dr Khan: “As one of the oldest civil society organisations in South Africa, and certainly one of the oldest if not the oldest environmental organisation, the Botanical Society is keen to be part of the process of teaching the next generation of young people to play an important role in protecting the natural environment…and our indigenous flora in particular”.

The keynote address was delivered by Debbie Schafer, Minister of Education in the Western Cape. Debbie Schafer comments: “We need to educate our learners regarding their importance, and to protect and conserve Cycads and other plants…Environmental education in schools is therefore vitally important. Environmental education also raises awareness amongst learners about the importance of protecting the environment as well as the actions they can take to improve and to save it for future generations”.

Top: Dr John Donaldson, Chief Director of Applied Biodiversity Research at SANBI. Above: Andrew Stuart-Recking, Representative from Nedbank Private Wealth speaks on behalf of the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust.

Dr John Donaldson, Chief Director of Applied Biodiversity Research at SANBI, provided an overview of the plight of Cycads, biodiversity management and action plan and how we all have a role to play in their conservation. He highlights that according to climate change research, Cycads have been shown to response positively to elevated Carbon Dioxide levels. Sadly, however, research through repeat photography has shown that only 16% of Cycads recorded from historical photos in the 1940s are still present today, highlighting drastic population decline through poaching. Dr Donaldson then goes on to highlight what we are doing to conserve this imperilled plant group: This includes a national strategy for Cycad conservation and biodiversity action plans for all twelve Critically Endangered Cycads.

Top: Dr Zorina Dharsey, Executive Director of the Primary Schools Programme. Above: Carmel Mbizo, SANBI Head of Branch Biodiversity Science.

Dr Zorina Dharsey, Executive Director of the Primary Schools Programme is welcomed. The organisation provides teacher training and support across a range of fields from social science to environmental education. Comments Dr Dharsey: “Teaching and learning needs to be practical, it needs to be hands on and actively involve children integrated across sciences”. This is done through accessing the knowledge of and building partnerships with leading specialists in their fields, including a new partnership with BotSoc. “Not one species is more important than another, we are all connected…Each plant and animal species is important. So we come full circle in the Cycad book”.

In closing Carmel Mbizo, SANBI Head of Branch Biodiversity Science and Policy advice, on behalf of SANBI CEO delivers the vote of thanks. BotSoc would like to thank all collaborators, partners and funders involved in making this project possible.

Greening the future: Notes on a successful partnership between BotSoc & CPUT

Written by Joseph Kioko and Catherine Clulow

The Botanical Society of South Africa (BotSoc) and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) signed a memorandum of agreement in 2014. Heading into the third year of this three year contract, the success stories are encouraging and the partnership will be continued for another three years. The purpose of this partnership was a pilot study for the BotSoc to support a tertiary educational institution and in particular their nature conservation students.

Students taking the National Diploma in Nature Conservation at CPUT undergo highly valuable hands-on training, thanks to funding from BotSoc. The training was facilitated by a highly knowledgeable team led by the City of Cape Town and held at the Cape Town Environmental Education Trust’s (CTEET) Zeekoevlei camp.

The one-week training camp is part of the curriculum of CPUT’s Nature Conservation Diploma, and is designed to integrate what the students have learnt in lectures and practicals with applied skills needed for work. By their nature, these skills can best be taught in situ, in a conservation setting and by professionals working in the conservation sector.

Skills taught are many and varied, including: Setting up and manning night observation points in a Nature Reserve, using dart guns for baboon management, operation of chain-saws and bush-cutters, the use of Sherman traps for small animal surveys, fixed-point photography for vegetation surveys, the use of field guides for the identification of flora and fauna, park maintenance, park management, alien clearing, GPS mapping, and the use of biodiversity databases, among other technical skills.

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Image supplied by CPUT

Students also learnt and practiced ‘soft skills’ such as teamwork, leadership and communication by taking turns to act as supervisors or team members while undertaking specific tasks. This was combined with workshops about time management and reserve management, also given by expert practising conservationists from the City of Cape Town.

Although this camp has been run by CPUT for a number of years, the camp in 2015 represented a new beginning and was different from all previous camps. For the first time, the students did not have to pay for the camp from their own pockets, the 2015 and 2016 camps were fully funded by BotSoc, including transport, food and training expenses. Therefore for the first time students who did not have the means could fully participate.

Previously, those students who could not afford the camp were disadvantaged even further by missing the training. Some students could afford only the transport costs but had no funds for sufficient nourishment and water during the training camp. The feedback from students highlighted that the provision of food saved time that would have been lost when all students had to prepare their own meals, and so there was more time for conservation activities.

The provision of meals also provided a good opportunity for students from all backgrounds to socialise, learn from each other, and sow the seeds for fruitful collaboration as professionals. Therefore the full sponsorship of the camp by BotSoc was a key component in enabling the success of students who would otherwise have been marginalised, and is a tangible contribution towards the inclusion of young people from diverse backgrounds in entering the conservation profession.

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Image supplied by CPUT

Students have expressed their great appreciation of the training received and were full of praise for the facilitators, and singled out experts and field rangers from the City of Cape Town as well as the CTEET staff for the quality of nourishment provided.

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Image supplied by CPUT

According to Prof. Kioko, the success of the field training camp is the result of highly effective collaboration with organisations such as the City of Cape Town, CTEET, and BotSoc, and is very grateful to those organisations. He added that it is BotSoc that provided the ‘glue’ for the collaboration that delivered the successful 2015 and 2016 camps by providing the funding. The collaboration between BotSoc and CPUT is making a real difference in training the conservationists of the future.

Another activity supported through collaborations is that the first and second year students visit Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens annually. BotSoc facilitates entry and information guides to assist learning through another great partnership with SANBI. You can read more about the BotSoc- SANBI partnership here. This year, the students attended an outing to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden and the Compton Herbarium, where they were shown and taught about specimen preservation and research with Christopher Cupido at the Compton Herbarium.

Following this they enjoyed using the gardens as their outdoor classroom for the day. Welcomed by BotSoc Executive Assistant, Catherine Clulow and told about the BotSoc/ SANBI partnership, students were then led by SANBI’s Julia September on an in depth tour of the gardens to highlight conservation in situ and ex situ. The group were treated to behind the scenes visits to areas of conservation management and research within the gardens and thoroughly enjoyed the day.

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CPUT nature conservation students visit Kirstenbosch 2016. © Catherine Clulow

BotSoc provides CPUT with resources used in broadening student’s knowledge and interest in biodiversity, and Veld & Flora magazines are used for discussion topics and passion sharing. Students return the ‘favour’ so to speak, in promoting the Society during their WIL internships, when they give presentations about BotSoc to their host institutions, thereby spreading the word about the Society.

It is inspiring to see the determination and spirit of the next generation and we wish all who are influenced by this partnership, to be inspired and develop ever- growing passion to remain interested and working in the environmental sector, greening the future.

Acknowledgement: We would like to thank the BotSoc members who so generously donate funds for this project.

In a nutshell: South Africa’s National Strategy for Plant Conservation

Written by Catherine Clulow

As signatory to the Convention of Biological Diversity, South Africa is dedicated to a national strategy to safeguard plants aligned with the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation. South Africa is in a prime position to make a significant impact to global plant conservation as we have 6% of the world’s plant diversity and strong botanical and conservation capacity. This blog aims to spread awareness about the strategy and its importance, as well as the role BotSoc is playing in its implementation.

Over the past two years the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and the Botanical Society of South Africa (BotSoc) have worked together with South African botanists and conservationists to develop this strategy. The South African National Strategy for Plant Conservation (NSPC) includes 16 outcome-orientated targets, which if well-implemented will lead to the improved conservation of plants.

Due to South Africa being megadiverse and facing unique challenges, the global targets were altered for the development of South Africa’s strategy. The targets were altered in such a way that they are attainable and relevant in the South African context. The targets range from documenting conservation status of plants, to conservation in situ and ex situ. There are targets tackling the threat of alien vegetation and a range of targets addressing the sustainable use of plants.

The strategy ends with targets focusing on its implementation and increased awareness and education about plants and the need to conserve them. Each target is nationally relevant and aligned with activities identified by the South African National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP). South Africa’s Strategy for Plant Conservation is available here.

South Africa’s Strategy for Plant Conservation has 5 objectives that outline the 16 Targets to be implemented by 2020.

These objectives are:
1. Plant diversity is well understood, documented and recognised;
2. Plant diversity is urgently and effectively conserved;
3. Plant diversity is used in a sustainable and equitable manner;
4. Education and awareness about plant diversity, its role in sustainable livelihoods and importance to all life on earth is promoted;
5. The capacity and public engagement necessary to implement the strategy have been developed.

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BotSoc has been directly involved in assisting in editing this strategy and are committed to the implementation of specific targets 14, 15 and 16.

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Target 14: The importance of plant diversity and the need for its conservation incorporated into communication, education and public awareness programmes.

Target outcomes for 2020

– Plant conservation included in the life science curriculum across SA

– Plant conservation awareness expanded by exposure to botanical gardens and by involving the public in citizen science projects

– Plant conservation promoted in relevant media

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Target 15: The number of trained people working with appropriate facilities sufficient according to national needs, to achieve the targets of this strategy.

Target outcomes for 2020

– Conservation courses offered in SA’s universities aligned with skills needed in the field of plant conservation

-Work place mentorship opportunities available in plant conservation programmes

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Target 16: Institutions, networks and partnerships for plant conservation established and strengthened at national, regional and international levels to achieve the targets of this strategy.

Target outcomes for 2020

-A South African network for plant conservation effectively implementing and updating the NSPC.

-Working groups for each target ensuring that specified outputs are being achieved.

Through BotSoc’s activities and partnerships we aim to contribute to the implementation of these targets and successfully achieve the outcomes laid out in the strategy. In doing so, we will be playing our vital and attainable role, and contributing to the greater scheme of safeguarding South Africa’s rich and unique floral heritage, as laid out in the NSPC.

Over the next few years stories of the NSPC implementation and of outcome-oriented activities will be shared. Each of us can play a role in highlighting the importance of conservation to others and sharing what we have learnt about the strategy and outcome news stories as they become available.

Numerous environmental entities, bodies and individuals are involved in driving the activities of this living and dynamic document, and the successful implementation of the strategy outcomes. Through collaborative efforts we can and will make a difference to safeguard biodiversity for all.

The power of collaboration: #greeningcecilia

Written by Catherine Clulow

We wanted to share this inspiring story to encourage action and involvement in making a difference, because each and every one of us can.

Earlier this year, a BotSoc member, Paul Cartmel contacted The Botanical Society of South Africa with an exciting idea. Here’s the overview of his story: he decided the traffic and commute to work was not all that pleasant and took up cycling to work when feasible. Somewhere along the line he had a thought to track his travel and put aside R1/km to give back to the environment, another individual sponsored him as well. The long and the short of it, this small initiative landed Paul with a few thousand rands which he then offered to donate to the BotSoc to be directed at planting trees in the Cecilia Forest area, an area Paul and friends and family particularly enjoy frequenting.

Paul Cartmel, BotSoc member: “ With global population growth being an exponential problem, we need exponential solutions. Raising funds for this initiative as a Capetonian was a no-brainer, as a nature lover it’s great to give back and we hope to inspire others to contribute to the solutions too. It’s exciting to be active, to get a feel for and be involved in the tree planting and I look forward to showing my children these trees one day.”

And it’s that simple, that’s how it all started. One keen member, one individual with an idea and passion and the initiative spiraled from there. BotSoc engaged with Table Mountain National Park, who manage the area, and planning began. Further funds were donated to the cause and partners and volunteers came on board to join in.

Reliance Compost donated compost and some trees. Funds were used to purchase over 600 indigenous trees, mainly from the Kirstenbosch production nursery, but others were received from the Reliance nursery as well as another local nursery.

Great people, partnerships and passion made it all possible and on Wednesday 22 June 2016 over 60 individuals from different organisations and walks of life came together and worked side by side to plant over 600 indigenous trees in the Cecilia Forest area of the Table Mountain National Park.

Anthony Hitchcock, Nursery Manager and horticulturist at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden: “Great to be working with SANParks and BotSoc to restore the natural vegetation on the slopes of Table Mountain.”

Staff members from SANParks; BotSoc; SANBI Kirstenbosch;  Reliance Compost;  New Media Labs; together with volunteers from Miss Earth South Africa; friends and family members and even some hikers who stumbled upon the event, worked together planting trees for the future. Dirty hands, smiling faces, warmed hearts were all evident in that valley and that’s the power of collaboration.

Restoring the area to its original vegetation composition of Fynbos and forest and the clearing of alien invasive  trees such as gums and pines are an ongoing focus of the SANParks teams. Initiatives such as this lend a helping hand towards making a difference. I think this was an awesome project, don’t you?

If you’ve been inspired by this story, please share it with  others too and consider following our blog. To find out how you too can become a BotSoc member, click here, we’d love to have you join the BotSoc family.

The BotSoc mission reads below and this initiative speaks directly to fulfilling it.

BotSoc’s mission: To win the hearts, minds and material support of individuals and organisations, wherever they may be, for the conservation, cultivation, study and wise use of the indigenous flora and vegetation of southern Africa, for the benefit and sharing of all.

This project also links directly to Targets of the South African National Strategy for Plant Conservation  and we are so proud of working in collaboration with others in support of achieving these goals. Read more about the National Strategy for Plant Conservation here.

We hope this story brightened your day and inspires you too to take action for the environment.

Until next time…