Namibian Chamber of Environment (2023)
Better Information for Better Conservation, Restoration and Sustainable Use of Namibian Near-endemic Plants
Last Updated: December 1st, 2023
There is a need to collate the extensive but scattered information on Namibian plants into a freely accessible and easily understandable, definitive resource. This is particularly true for Namibian endemic and near-endemic plants which mostly are not covered in external resources. Access to reliable data is problematic in Namibia as most users do not have the means to access hard-copy resources or scientific publications, but almost everyone has a mobile phone to access digital information. Digital information however needs to be gathered, verified and updated by specialists. Some plant use information may have been lost in public knowledge through time. Without correct and current information, no sensible decisions can be made to address the urgent issue of biodiversity loss and its mitigation. There is a critical need to increase awareness so the public appreciates the importance and the role of plants in human wellbeing and to promote grass-roots conservation initiatives. This is also a great opportunity to pass the accumulated, undocumented knowledge of senior botanists on to the younger generation. It will also allow for the identification of research gaps which can be addressed by students.
The main outputs of the Better Information for Better Conservation, Restoration and Sustainable Use of Namibian Near-endemic Plants project are:
Output 1: A database of all available, relevant data on Namibian near-endemic plants will be established. Success will be measured by the number of Namibian near-endemic species for which at least five records (D above) are entered onto the database and outputs are ready for uploading online. The final number of Namibian near-endemic species still needs to be determined as a first step of this project, but is targeted at 600 records. After 12 months, a milestone goal will be completing this process for 50% of near-endemic species.
Output 2: An online source of verified, recent information specific to Namibian near-endemic plants available on the EIS. The number of near-endemic species for which information is available online will be the measure of success. A milestone target is set at 50% of near-endemic species online after 12 months of the project.
Output 3: Stakeholders (government and private, experts and laymen) will be made aware of the existence of the online resource on Namibian near-endemics and its use in achieving conservation and sustainable use goals. The number of engagements with stakeholders through meetings/workshops, presentations, online postings, publications, letters and emails will determine success. The goal is to hold two workshops/meetings/training sessions and by the end of month 19 to have input or comments for improvement from at least two government and three private stakeholder groups.
Namibian Chamber of Environment project site announcement.
Update from Project Director, Herta Kolberg The NCE/JRS Near-Endemic Plant Project – NEPP for short – has employed an intern. We are happy to welcome Sofia Amakali to our small team. She was born and raised near Ondangwa, a town in north-central Namibia. She graduated with a BSc (Hons.) in environmental biology from the University of Namibia in 2022. Sofia immediately got stuck in the task of making a digital inventory of the transparency collection at the National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI). Deciphering the illegible handwriting on some of the older slides was a first lesson in what botanists often are faced with. Getting what is available into digital form will enable us not only to link these images to the rest of the plant information, but also to plan for the upcoming fieldwork in the south of Namibia. The area has had good rains and plants are beginning to flower like they don’t do every year – we need to take advantage of this! Sofia will be involved in the planning process and gain some practical experience on the fieldtrip itself. A colleague from the NBRI will also accompany us. Expect lots of pretty plant pictures once we return from the field in September!
Update from Project Director, Herta Kolberg: Namibian Chamber of Environment is hosting a photo competition of near-endemic plants. Competition deadline is 31 August 2024. Read more for details.
Meeting Updates from Project Director Herta Kolberg: Stakeholder Meeting : A first stakeholder meeting was organised in collaboration with the Botanical Society of Namibia on 21 September 2023. The intention with this meeting was to announce the project, the rationale behind it, its aims, collaborators and how it can benefit the different stakeholders. A total of 25 participants represented 4 organisations and 17 private citizens. We would have loved to have more organisations represented and am thinking about scheduling any future meetings at a different time (working hours) and advertising more widely and earlier to attract in particular government officials that could benefit from the project.The attendees did, as expected, show much interest and asked many questions about contributing to this project. We at this opportunity also announced the competition whereby contributors to the Indigenous Plant Atlas could win a prize for submitting records with photos of near-endemic plants. With this we hope to get additional photos for the project and motivate citizen atlasers to contribute to the Plant Atlas. Since the Namibian rainy season has not yet started in earnest, there is not much activity on the Indigenous Plant Atlas at the moment, but this should change in the next few weeks. As the vegetation starts greening and flowering, there is generally more interest and activity by atlasers.
NBRI workshop for young scientists The National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI) has a critical shortage of scientists. As a first opportunity of contact, it was planned to involve NBRI staff in planning the first, targeted field trip for the project. For various reasons this could not happen, and it was then decided to include targeted field trip planning in the first NBRI training workshop on 3 November 2023. NBRI staff also requested that identification of plants in the field be one of the topics to be discussed at these planned workshops. Because this ties in very closely with planning a field trip, we combined these two into one workshop. The workshop was attended by 8 NBRI staff and interns, the project intern and one unemployed graduate, not all of whom were young or inexperienced, though. We started off with Herta giving a short introduction to the project. We discussed the process of planning a targeted field trip, using the project’s first field trip as an example. We explored all the difficulties and pitfalls and how to address these. We then also had the benefit of hindsight to look at how this planning process worked out for the first field trip of the project, in which two attendees were involved. By the end of the workshop participants had the tools to plan a targeted field trip, but also realized that the practical implementation is not all that easy. Most attendees walked away with the impression that field trips are very expensive and put a lot of pressure on you to provide the outputs. It certainly is not a walk in the park, but nevertheless very rewarding and enjoyable.
The second part of the workshop covered identification of plants in the field. Herta assured the participants that this is a challenge even for seasoned botanists like herself, and was also experienced during the first NEPP field trip. The only way to reduce this challenge is by preparing well for a field trip and taking any conceivable identification aid along. Even then, and even in a herbarium, plant identification is not easy and mistakes will still happen. There is no “silver bullet” solution to this. The participants were relieved to hear that this problem was not restricted to them as young botanists and showed renewed enthusiasm to manage this. The outcome of this workshop was that NBRI staff will apply this knowledge when they accompany the project on the second field trip in March/April 2024. We also agreed that we need to have a discussion among a subset of the NBRI staff, other Namibian botanists and the project, to thrash out the issue of whose taxonomy to follow. It became clear that knowing what key to use for plant identification was the first stumbling block for beginners. The project will therefore be including and marking publications with such keys in the literature list that will be posted online for each near-endemic plant.
Project Director Biography
Herta Kolberg is an independent botanical consultant with a MSc from the University of Birmingham (UK) specializing in plant genetic resources conservation (seed banking). During her career of over 40 years, first at Namibia’s National Botanical Research Institute and then as consultant, she has gained experience on a wide range of plant or plant-related subjects. Particular fields of interest are plant taxonomy, conservation, data management and ecological restoration. Herta’s motivation for this project stems from her strong belief that biodiversity management decisions should be based on scientific fact and her desire to pass on accumulated knowledge to the younger generation of botanists.