Foster(ing) coastal habitats

Over the past 18 years Friends of the St Francis Nature Areas (Foster) has won the hearts and minds of local residents by restoring, managing and conserving 132 hectares of critically endangered coastal habitat in the Eastern Cape.

a Run entirely by dedicated volunteers, the organisation has expanded from restoring the coastal habitat by removing alien invasive trees to setting up a biodiversity network along the coastline.

“We have now established a reserve network that can be the pride and joy of all South Africans,” says Richard Cowling, chairperson of the organisation, after years of battling red tape and departmental legislation – and winning.

The reserve network has been designed to link with adjacent protected areas – the Cape St Francis Nature Reserve and a 50ha private reserve – to create green spaces in an urban area and to facilitate the movement of animals throughout the green belt.

Foster is creating 10km of pathways between the beach and workplaces, hiking and cycling trails, photographic opportunities and interpretative signage. By protecting a piece of wilderness, this small NGO is educating the public about vital natural habitat.

But Foster’s main achievement is getting the Kouga municipality and local conservation authorities on board to collaborate in protecting the biodiversity of this land and to reduce fire hazards.

The dream is for this land to be included in the Baviaanskloof Mega-reserve and become recognised by Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism as a stewardship protected area.

Not only have jobs been created through restoring and maintaining the reserve, but there is an outreach programme that provides environmental education for learners in local schools.

Looming climate change is very real for Foster as members have noticed an unusually high frequency of flood events in the past decade. There is also a remarkable increase in the abundance of bitou bush in the region.

“This indigenous shrub is smothering other components of the endemic-rich dune scrub along the Cape south and southeast coasts,” says Cowling.