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RoadTrip | Visiting the threatened Renosterveld in Ford's bi-turbo WildTrak 4x4

2020-09-02 07:30

Ferdi de Vos

Ford Ranger WildTrak

2020 Ford Ranger WildTrak (Ryan Abbott / RoadTrip)

• The RoadTrip team visist a conservation NPO in the Overberg.

• A Ford Ranger Wildtrak was their vehicle of choice to this threatened habitat.

• Ford SA is an avid supporter of local environmental initiatives.

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Ford, through the Ford Wildlife Foundation (FWF), supports various local environmental protection initiatives with vehicles.

The Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust near Bredasdorp in the Southern Cape is one of them. We paid their Haarwegskloof centre and guest house a visit with a Ranger Wildtrak.

Through the Ford Wildlife Foundation (FWF), Ford South Africa uses Rangers of a different kind to support environmental education, research, and conservation projects. Since the FWF was launched in 2014, Ford has assisted a large number of FWF partner organisations through the loan of Ranger Double Cab 4×4s for two years, to ensure that they can carry out their work in even the most remote and hard-to-reach locations.

A total of 25 Rangers are currently on loan to a wide variety of far-reaching conservation projects, including the Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust (ORCT). ORCT is a small non-profit organisation founded to preserve the remaining fragments of what used to be the dominant veld type in the Overberg district.

To read the original story, click here.

Ford Ranger WildTrak

2020 Ford Ranger WildTrak (Ryan Abbott / RoadTrip)

A threatened habitat

ORCT, in association with the Botanical Society and Struik Publishers, has now also introduced the first-ever Field Guide to the Renosterveld. Authored by Dr Odette Curtis-Scott, Mike Goulding, Nick Helme, Rhoda McMaster, Sean Privett, and Prof. Charles Stirton, the guide is the result of five years of extensive research. It features 980 Renosterveld plant species, as well as 140 animals found in this habitat. 

It also includes an illustrated glossary, details on Renosterveld ecology, and management guidelines for landowners, and the Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust. For more information, visit visit the website here.

Originally, Renosterveld covered the entire clay- and shale-based lowlands of the Overberg. Part of the Fynbos Biome, but distinct, and comprising the most fertile soils of the region, it was first identified as being most suitable for agriculture by early European settlers. Relatively soon after that, it was radically and almost unrecognisably transformed due to livestock grazing and incessant ploughing. 

Nowadays, the unique veld is highly fragmented, with fewer than 50 being over 100 hectares in size. About 5% of the original Renosterveld is left within the Overberg, and almost all the remnants are on privately-owned land. It creates an additional challenge for conservation and coupled with the large range of threatened endemic plants and animals inhabiting this bio-hotspot, it is one of the most threatened habitats on Earth.

ranger

Flowers in the area (Supplied by ORCT)

Bi-turbo power

With this in mind, we set off from Cape Town on the N2 towards Swellendam with the latest Ranger double cab Wildtrak. Revised in 2019, the flagship Ranger is now equipped with the SYNC 3 system with embedded navigation, eight-inch touchscreen colour display, and voice control. By using Waze, we set Haarwegskloof as our destination via Applink.

The Wildtrak is now also equipped with the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder bi-turbo diesel engine and ten-speed transmission doing duty in the Raptor derivative. With 157kW and 500Nm of torque underfoot, the double cab, looking dashing in Saber Orange with titanium-effect accent colours, effortlessly jaunted up Sir Lowry's Pass. We even tried the additional SST (Select Shift Transmission) function, locking out selected gears while climbing the steep gradient.

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The comfortable, more upscale interior, now with Active Noise Control (ANC) and sportier, partial-leather seats with carbon-like weave accents, orange stitching, and Wildtrak graphics, made our journey feel brief. It was not long before, just short of Swellendam, we turned off on a well-maintained gravel road leading towards De Hoop and Malgas.

Even on 18-inch rubber the ride quality of the Ranger, now with revised front stabiliser and damper settings, was composed on the dirt roads crisscrossing the region and soon the buildings at Haarwegskloof came into view. No less than three Rangers, including an original pre-facelift Super Cab, welcomed us at the centre, consisting of the Old Dairy - a beautifully renovated and converted mud-wall building - and a research centre.

Ford Ranger WildTrak

2020 Ford Ranger WildTrak (Ryan Abbott / RoadTrip)

Conservation structure

All masked up and with face shields supplied by Ford, we were warmly greeted by Dr Odette Curtis-Scott, Director of the Trust, and her team. She quickly explained that the sole purpose of the small NPO is the conservation of the neglected and critically endangered lowland Renosterveld habitats. 

Established in 2012, the Trust has partnered with NGOs and farmers to test a new conservation structure called Conservation Easement; attaching a servitude to the title deed of the landowner with a management plan attached to this. The ORCT team then provides support to protect remaining Renosterveld patches.

"The blueprint for this model is already in place, and we are now rolling out support to landowners," Dr Curtis-Scott said.


Have you ever used your vehicle to help preserve and protect nature? Email us with your story.

ranger

Flowers in the area (Supplied by ORCT)

Tangible passion

We then took the fleet of Rangers up a steep hill near the centre. From here we had a clear view of the beautiful surroundings, with farmland interspaced by 'drab' spots of Renosterveld. With over 500 species, the plant life is exceptional, and the ORCT has been instrumental in discovering many new species in the region. It is also home to many birds and mammals that depend on the habitat.

The passion of the team to conserve this threatened ecosystem and ensure its future is tangible. And with the support from the Ford Wildlife Fund and other partners, their dedication will not go unrewarded. 

Dr Curtiss-Scott said: "We often need to access difficult to reach places and travel long distances on dirt roads to visit farmers and landowners, and our Rangers are indispensable for this."

Besides the efforts of the Trust to conserve the original habitat, this part of the Overberg is spectacular and certainly worth a visit. For those wanting to explore the area close to De Hoop and the Breede River, the Trust offers affordable accommodation at the Haarwegskloof Renosterveld Reserve.

Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust

Address: Haarwegskloof, PO Box 27, Napier, 7270

Phone: + 27 83 551 3341

Email: info@overbergrenosterveld.org.za

Website: https://overbergrenosterveld.org.za/

Ford Ranger WildTrak

2020 Ford Ranger WildTrak (Ryan Abbott / RoadTrip)

Ford Ranger 2.0 BiTurbo Wildtrak 10AT

Engine: Inline, four-cylinder, bi-turbodiesel

Capacity: 1996cc

Maximum power: 157kW @ 3750rpm

Maximum torque: 500Nm @ 1500 - 2000rpm

Transmission: Ten-speed auto, four-wheel drive

0-100 km/h: 7.8seconds

Top speed: 212km/h

Fuel capacity: 60L

Fuel economy: 7.8-litres/100km

CO2 emissions: 207g/km

Warranty: Four-years/120 000km

Service plan: Six-years/90 000km

Price: R753 600

We like: Less auspicious Wildtrak detailing, powerful, smooth and responsive engine and transmission combination, upscaled interior, best model in range.

We do not like: Some reports of problems with the ten-speed transmission, ambient interior lighting looks like an afterthought.

RoadTrip rating: 88%

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