Management of the old field vegetation in the Namaqua National Park, South Africa: conflicting demands of conservation and tourism
Springtime mass displays of wild flowers are especially prominent on old fields and other disturbed sites in Namaqualand, an arid region in the north–western part of South Africa. This springtime floral spectacle draws thousands of tourists annually. However, there is a potential conflict between biodiversity conservation and the mass flowering that is a valuable source of income to the region. To develop a management plan for the old field vegetation in the Namaqua National Park, the questions of whether to disturb or not, how often to disturb and what type of disturbance should be applied are of vital importance. The aim of this paper is to report on experimental work to determine the impact of disturbance on mass flowering displays and biodiversity. Results show that although species diversity increased with time since last cultivation, the mass effect of the flowering display diminished. The loss of the mass effect appears to be primarily caused by the increased abundance of a short–lived perennial species (Leysera gnaphalodes) that suppressed the flowering display of the prominent annual species. To maintain mass displays as a tourist attraction, regular disturbance by tilling therefore seems essential. Initially, a four–year rotational tilling programme is proposed to produce a mosaic of fields of different ages to ensure that there will always be some old fields producing a spectacular and uncluttered display. Frequency of disturbance should thereafter be determined by an adaptive management policy. If the management of the old field vegetation is seen in the context of conserving total landscape ecodiversity, this includes conserving cultural bio–landscapes and their intrinsic values. Viewed in this context, human–induced disturbance in the small area set aside for mass displays in the Namaqua National Park (less than 0.05% of the park) becomes justified.