AnneLise Vlok & Sandra Falanga | Synopsis of the GCBR Forum Meeting | 26 February 2019

GCBR Forum knowledge-sharing get-together

26th February 2019

NG Church Hall, Ladismith

Sandra Falanga has compiled the following synopsis of the presentations given at the meeting for the Outramps CREW weekly report and subsequently augmented it with some extra notes. She states that the content has been condensed – and reflects her stance and interpretation.

“Silent Spring”

Inspiration was delivered in big dollops during the brilliant big five line-up in Ladismith. I strongly felt marine biologist & conservationist Rachel Carson’s chilling cautionary against harmful chemicals in her book Silent Spring (1962) during two of the presentations. I cannot completely compress all the information of the morning into a sensible compact format the way it spoke to my head and heart but here goes.

“It is not half so important to know as to feel.” Rachel Carson.

Photo: A Vlok

Trapsuutjies accelerating – Susan Botha, Philippa Davis, Jeremy Basson, Sanna Arends, Marilize Beer, Katherine Venter, Samantha Lewis, N Strydom, Charles Basson (Trapsuutjies, Water Wise Ways, GCBR)

Trapsuutjies is Oudtshoorn-based and a wider roll-out of their Water Wise Ways projects could save even more water. High water meter readings and households are investigated and plumbing woes repaired. The community is made aware of water conservation through workshops while plumbing skills are transferred to locals. The approximate cost of material to fix one house according to the Fix & Learn methodology is about R150. To date a total of 313 houses have been fixed in De Rust and Dysselsdorp.

Can one play a Water Touches Game with this project? For every household repaired, another household touched or tagged to follow suit? Susan Botha and Charles Basson have expanded their scope by enlarging their team and focus. Litter busting is now on their agenda and they have taken over the management of the phytoremediation process at the De Rust wastewater treatment facility. This project will be duplicated at the Dysselsdorp wastewater treatment works during 2019. They also plan to engage with schools regarding three main topics: grey water systems, spekboom planting and recycling.

“Nature has introduced great variety into the landscape, but man has displayed a passion for simplifying it. Thus he undoes the built-in checks and balances by which nature holds the species within bounds”. Rachel Carson 2

The Swartberg World Heritage Site Complex – an exquisite gem of the GCBR – Kgaugelo Shadung, Tom Barry, Phillip Esau, Natalie Baker and AnneLise Vlok (CapeNature)

The Swartberg Complex (including the Swartberg, Gamkaberg and Kammanassie Protected Areas) is a World Heritage Site and Team Swartberg is busy with a management plan for this ‘exquisite gem of the GCBR’. They mostly used maps for their quick overview of the reserves. Reference was made to vegetation and aquatic units; plants and animals of conservation concern; highlights and challenges; biodiversity targets; eco-system services values; invasive alien plant infestation; spekboom restoration potential and a vision.

In every outthrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth.” Rachel Carson

 There are two genetically distinct populations of Cape Mountain Zebra (CMZ) in the Swartberg Complex: one at Gamkaberg and one at Kammanassie. The herd at Gamkaberg is growing slowly. The 1997 and 2017 fires gave the population a boost. Affordable eco-tourism accommodation at Gamkaberg demonstrates to visitors that environmentally friendly living ís possible and the reserve also features a new KhoiSan Heritage Trail.

 At Kammanassie the protected area consists mainly of the upper mountainous land, while the lower foothills belong to private landowners (for this reason there is therefore no access to the stateland for tourists at present). Most of the Kammanassie CMZ individuals occur on the lower-lying private land, because of their habitat requirements. There is, however, concern that hybridisation could occur with Burchell’s zebra where they occur on adjacent game farms. In addition, there has been bulk abstraction of groundwater from the Vermaaks River area of the Kammanassie since the early 1990s to supply water for Dysselsdorp and the rural areas within the Oudtshoorn Municipal area towards Calitzdorp. CapeNature has been monitoring 55 springs since the 1990s and 60% of these have dried up to date.

 Frequency of fire cycles: AnneLise explained that the post-fire veld age for more than two thirds of the Swartberg Complex is less than four years. This has huge implications for the Cape Sugarbird. These birds rely on Protea trees and shrubs of which it is a pollinator. It is not known how far the birds can fly. It is desirable that 50% of individuals of Proteas in a population should flower three times before the next fire. For some Protea species this can be 10 years, others 15 years or even longer (research by Jan Vlok). Pressure/competition from resprouter species impact on veld richness and the water availability — there is a higher water yield associated with a richness in non-sprouting plants.

The Swartberg Complex is inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List as part of the Cape Floral Region Protected Areas. To be included on the list, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one of ten selection criteria. Our Cape Floral Region is listed as meeting two:

 “Criterion (ix): The property is considered of Outstanding Universal Value for representing ongoing ecological and biological processes associated with the evolution of the unique Fynbos biome.

 Criterion (x): The Cape Floral Region is one of the richest areas for plants when compared to any similar sized area in the world. “ https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1007.

The following vision statement for the Swartberg WHS Complex was supported by all present:

The Swartberg World Heritage Complex conserves living landscapes that represent the region’s biodiversity and ecosystems through integrated management and partnerships for the benefit of all. 3

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” Rachel Carson

Photo: D Kotze

The sport of hacking invasive alien trees in the Klein Swartberg Mountains – Donovan Kotze (Volunteer, Ladismith)

Donovan Kotze for President! He has been living in Ladismith for a year and now punts alien plant hacking as a sport. In the eight months of May to Dec 2018, by hacking twice a month with two companions, 2073 Pine and Hakea trees were cut in 1018 ha of spectacularly beautiful landscapes in the Klein Swartberg, clad in magnificent low infested Fynbos. Whilst waving his nifty saw, he says that hacking as a sport has eclipsed trail running for him – ánd that hacking can even satisfy a primal hunting instinct! Donovan worked closely with Kgaugelo Shadung (Conservation Manager) of Swartberg World Heritage Site to plan and record progress stats. Dangerous sites were avoided and high infestations recorded and information forwarded to CapeNature.

He tables this vision for 2020 as a GCBR challenge: For thirty local leisure sport hackers to clear 10 000ha of low infestation veld within the GCBR – and to find creative ways to promote hacking as a sport.

Hack into his Vision: Donovan – 082 302 2228.

Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.” Rachel Carson

Photo: S Falanga

Biodiversity and Bees – Jenny Cullinan (UJUBees)

This talk presented by self-funded researcher Jenny Cullinan was my favourite. Although bees have been a favourite theme for me to read about over many years, the most important penny of all ever, only dropped for me as she talked. Captive honeybees are captive! They are not the same as free, wild honeybees*.

“It is an important time in history as insect populations are collapsing with an 80% insect biomass loss globally the past 25 years” – is how she introduces her talk. The main reason for the decimation is the intensive use of agricultural chemicals. Her main area of research has been the Cape Point Nature Reserve where there are 92 wild nests (not all occupied). Our Cape honeybee is unique in the world in its reproductive cycle and the ‘girl power’ adaption to requeen the swarm when the queen does not return from her mating flight to the nest (sometimes due to infamously strong Cape winds). Bees are a keystone species. Remove them and a massive collapse follows.

In Germany there are virtually no remaining wild bees. Bees are boxed, industrialized, managed and medicated. They have changed, lost their nature (this cannot be bred back) and the kept bees are not well. Bees only take from nature what they need says Jenny and during Q&A replied that she does not use/buy honey as bees only make what they need for themselves. Hives are built with surplus space in the upper section, in effect forcing the bees to make extra honey, which humans harvest. In Fynbos wild, free bees usually nest in rocks.

Bees in their own nests self-medicate on propolis. This is from resin collected from plants such as buchu – said to be a dedicated task and not pleasant. The bees knead the propolis and wipe themselves down as they come and go about. They maintain a very specific environment in their nests. Temperature is managed and numerous other creatures (as many as 300 other species!) in a give and take symbiosis to be healthy and productive. Bees are 100% reliant on flowers. They are our pollinators, though solitary bees top them by far in efficiency of pollination services. There are nearly 2000 species of solitary bees, they are specialist pollinators. Solitary bees are indicator species, reflecting the health of the environment. It is of vital importance to support small organic farmers in order to retain healthy wild bee populations.

Bees in hives are stressed, unhappy, often unhealthy and prone to compromised immune system challenges. Maintaining wild bee populations are best. Herbicides, pesticides and agro chemicals are poisons to bees. To survive bees need healthy above and below ground eco-systems. We need bees to survive.

There are many fascinating and precious intricacies to bee life which Jenny alluded to, defnitely worth knowing of. Following on the CREW principle – a bee guardianship movement, COMB (Caretakers of Melliferous Bees), is now taking off.

*Author’s note inserted 17/3: Beekeeping bees in the Western Cape and the wild and free bees are in fact the same species, the quite famous Apis mellifera subsp. capensis. ‘Farming’ with the bees changes their behaviour as humans manipulate the insects to serve them, as opposed to just beeing! The lifestyles and life cycles of wild living ‘free’ bees (some impacts: loss of and fragmented habitat and forage, climate change) are vastly different from bees working for humans (impacts: bee-killing pesticides, intensification of agriculture, industrial practises, parasites and pathogens, herbicide application, climate change, monocultures). We would be naïve to think that – boxing bees, medicating them, carting them around to vast areas covered in monocultures and drenched in strange chemicals, then expecting them to happily go about pollination services because billions of us need to eat – would not impact on the eventual (irreversible) genetic integrity of the bee species. Insects and bees have short life spans, this turnover of generations allow for quick adaptations (even genetic ones), for better or worse.

Jenny records a bee diary on the UJUbee Facebook page. This is from an article posted on the 2nd Feb 2019:

“Wild honeybees require natural nesting sites, something heavily constrained in the Western Cape resulting from intensive land-use and the dependence of the Fynbos biome on fire. Wild honeybees, kept wild and therefore not bred, are a critical resource for biodiversity in South Africa and should truly be protected in all pockets of natural vegetation”

As crude a weapon as the cave man’s club, the chemical barrage has been hurled against the fabric of life.” Rachel Carson

Photo: A Vlok

Reducing pesticide and herbicide use and increasing soil health – Francis Steyn (LandCare: Dept of Agriculture)

Healthy Living Soil “We live on the rooftops of a hidden world. Beneath the soil surface lies a land of fascination and also of mysteries….” (Foth, H.D. 1972. 5th ed. ‘Fundamentals of Soil Science’).

LandCare’s Francis Steyn (Dept of Agriculture) echoes the theme of harm done – specifically to soil – through the unnecessary practice of cultivation (i.e. ploughing) and the cumulative effect of using chemicals in agriculture. He poses this as hypothesis: To prove that food grown naturally – without herbicides and pesticides – increases the soil health and decreases the need for irrigation.

Healthy soil:

 It is never necessary to cultivate soil (no ploughing, tilling!)

 Topsoil – the top 3 cm is absolutely vital

 Good soil is friable, controls temperature and rain & wind erosion, maintains and holds moisture

 Mulch – soil requires a permanent cover – living and dead

 Soils needs diversity (i.e crops)

 Soils is a living entity (harbours countless organisms)

 Carbon is an indicator of soil quality

 Earthworms are what soil needs!

Francis says mainstream agriculture kills all life in soils by adding chemicals, pesticides, herbicides to this medium in which our food is grown. Ditto the addition here of harmful chemicals to crops. In many instances crops are sprayed weekly, irrespective, often with no reason. No wonder the incidence of cancer has increased from 10% to close to 70%. Francis is funny and entertaining, but his topic dead serious. The visuals in his presentation illustrate what he says well. His main involvement has been in viticulture. Plus minus two thirds of herbicides allowed for viticulture is on Green Peace’s Blacklist. Conservation farming and crop rotation show bigger yields and benefits over time. Shifting the mind set of farmers to different practises – well, that may take even longer.

The website for Conservation Agriculture Western Cape (CACW): blwk.co.za

“It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know the sense of wonder and humility.” Rachel Carson

Greetings!

Sandra Falanga

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