David Gwynne-Evans on Road Verge Maintenance

 Genocide is the deliberate and systematic destruction of an ethnic or national group. So what does one call the deliberate termination not of a race, but multiple species of flora and fauna? The Cape is the only floral kingdom with  UNESCO World Heritage Status, due to it being home to an incredible 9600 plant species.

70% of these plants are found nowhere else in the world, and they are crammed into an area of just 90,000km². On paper these plants are protected by UNESCO and by biodiversity legislation, yet the habitats to which many of these plants are confined, is being deliberately and systematically brushcut by teams placed strategically throughout the country to effect their destruction. Outdated and ill-considered transport legislation currently governs how road reserves are “maintained”. This maintenance regime not only actively destroys indigenous vegetation, but the disturbance causes a succession of invasive weeds and grasses. These weeds contaminate our food, and lead to the use of herbicide that further compromises the health of the environment and ourselves.

A few weeks ago I found a new species of dolls rose growing in the road reserve. It was growing in a small fragment of vegetation that had miraculously been spared the blade of the authorities. A week later I returned to find two tractors and a team brushcutting the remnant intact vegetation. This action spurred me to question the conservation value of road reserves. My findings are eye-opening. They show that these road reserves are very extensive occupying an area about fifty times that of all the nature reserves of the Cape Town area put together. They also hold an extraordinary diversity of plant species, many of which are of conservation concern and threatened with extinction.

In just 18 km², Fernkloof Nature Reserve has 1500 species, the same number of species as that found in the United Kingdom – a size of 245,000 km². This makes it floristically the richest known area in the Cape. Greg Nicolson in 2008 walked the length of a national road between Namibia and Cape Town, a distance of 650km. He documented the plants he saw in the road reserve, and found 670 species of which 60 species were of conservation concern. The area surveyed translates into a miniscule 3.6km². Yet unlike Fernkloof which has undergone decades of study by botanists, this study took place by one person relatively new to botany, over one month, in one season. How many more species would be found if it was properly studied? With 362,000km of roads, South Africa has the 18th largest road network in the world. The road reserve alongside tarred roads is estimated to be at least 15,000km². If 3.6km² has 670 species, what would all our road reserves hold, and can we afford to let them disappear?

On the 9th of September, I will submit this petition to parliament with a request for an emergency interdict confining the destruction of our roadside reserves to the immediate road edge. I will further request that legislation be resolved to the benefit of the long-term survival of biodiversity. You can read more about the discovery of the new species on:

http://bit.ly/1eYZGGi

I am auctioning a sterling silver pendant cast from the flower of this new species at: http://bit.ly/17ZEkop

 I am giving a photographic roadshow in Cape Town from the 3rd-6th of September to raise awareness of the issue: http://on.fb.me/13YpbrT

.You can read all about my NGO, CASABIO – The Home of Biodiversity: http://bit.ly/1dpbM01

Or donate funds to document and conserve biodiversity on: http://bit.ly/175oVpC Or email me directly on capebio@gmail.com

Please spread the word!

David Gwynne-Evans

CEO of CASABIO.org – The Home of Biodiversity

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