Sandra Falanga | Synopsis of the GCBR Forum Meeting | 7 November 2018

Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve Forum Meeting, The Granary, Dias Museum, Mossel Bay, 7 November 2018 Disclaimer: Sandra Falanga has compiled the following synopsis of the presentations given at the meeting. She states that any mistakes would be hers.

All the presentations were just perfect.

 

Who and what is S.M.A.R.T.? – Tersia Marais (S.M.A.R.T.)

The ‘Smarties’ volunteers of the Stranded Marine Animal Rescue Team deal with strandings of seals, seal pups, dolphins, whales, sea birds and penguins and turtles on beaches from Gouritz to Wilderness. Rescue, training, education, rehabilitation, networking, fundraising and beach clean ups are done. In recent times more and more out of range seals have been arriving on Mossel Bay’s shores, a stranded starving whale and calf highlights overfishing and the constant stream of mutilated marine creatures entangled in all kinds of matter emphasize that we need to seriously rethink and address our careless disposal of waste, use of plastics and pollutants. Follow S.M.A.R.T. on Facebook, become a volunteer, keep their number at hand and support them financially. They are real eco-heroes in Mossel Bay.

 

 

 

Factors influencing the severity of the 2017 Knysna fires – Tineke Kraaij (Nelson Mandela University, George)

As the current fires are being mopped up, Dr Tineke Kraaij of Nelson Mandela University presented research on factors that influenced the severity of the 2017 Knysna fires. An analysis of the landscape and vegetation types, long term climatic conditions, short term weather factors, the effect of alien plants in the landscape, the role of fire suppression, subsequent research on flammability and measurements of fuel moisture content of plant material. Correlations were done with 40 years of weather data available from George. This shows that the prevailing weather conditions at the time of the Knysna fire appear at ± three–year intervals. However, the drought conditions were the most severe for the 40 year period of weather data. Satellite imagery was analysed to track the path of the fire, its intensity and determine the completeness of burn in the landscape and different vegetation types. Fifty percent of the Knysna fire was in aliens and plantations (fire-prone Fynbos habitat), 25% in Fynbos, 2% in thicket and 4% in forest. This is by no means a complete reflection of Tineke’s interesting content, but gives a clearer understanding of the event and is moving closer to the development of predictive fire danger indices. 2

Giraffes in the Karoo, the good, the bad and the unknown – Eugéne Marais (University of Stellenbosch)

Lately there is the perplexing phenomenon of giraffes in the Karoo and the research of Eugéne Marais, University of Stellenbosch, show that although giraffes can survive in the Karoo, there is a much bigger picture to be considered, with more research required. The natural southerly distribution range of this charismatic herbivore is the Orange River. Livestock farms in the Karoo convert to game farms and stock various herbivores without extensive scientific studies to underpin decisions. Giraffes feed 30-48kg daily at a browse height of 1.8 – 4.6m. They are generalist browsers, but favour certain species (such as Acacias). In the Karoo that would be the in the river catchments where Vachellia karroo (before Acacia karroo or soetdoring) is found as seasonal browse. Karoo plants developed without this type browsing. Plants respond by producing secondary metabolites such as hydrogen cyanide (causes acute poisoning) and condensed tannins (high levels of tannins cannot be digested and can lead to gradual loss of condition). There have been unexplained deaths of giraffes in apparent good condition on some farms which requires further studies. Overall it is found that Karoo vegetation produces and maintains very, very high levels of tannins in response to browsing which in turn affects other herbivores negatively. As there is limited browse available, browsing pressure is continuous; this in turn creates greater susceptibility to disease for the browsed plants. There is the good, bad and unknown to having these charismatic herbivores in the Karoo.

Restoring a catchment area through an effective partnership – the Upper Breede Collaborative Extension Group – Rudolph Röscher (Western Cape Dept of Agriculture, LandCare)

Listening to Rudolph Röscher of LandCare touching on the huge collaboration to restore the upper Breede catchment through UBCEG (Upper Breede Collaborative Extension Group), I was wondering if one could at best clone, even better, hijack him for our area. The work done is BIG and comes a long way – real actions and outcomes – much of it fuelled by a Friday get together – lunch, wine, meeting after! There is a roll out of alien plant clearing in the catchment; next contractors follow to cut the wood, which is then processed in a sequence – biofuel, wood chips as mulch and biochar. SMME’s are set up. Landowners are mobilised and cross departmental delivery of actions attained. A large nursery is up and running and puts plants back into the system where invasive alien plants had been cleared. 3

Post clearing of alien invasive plants at Wolseley has already resulted in less flooding and a two week extension to available water supply. This is a multi-tiered involvement and action with many lessons learnt along the way. It was interesting that Rudolph ended his talk by listing Stephen Covey’s principles: Be pro-active; Begin with the end in mind; Put first things first; Focus on relationships; Trust – the highest form of human motivation; Clarify expectations – Seek first to understand. Rudolph advocates the use of CapeFarmMapper which gives one access to maps and spatial database layers such as boundaries, conservation, agriculture, groundwater and so on.

 

Spekboom restoration map for the Calitzdorp-Oudtshoorn area – Jan Vlok (Regalis Environmental Services)

Mapping of severely transformed spekboomveld in the Calitzdorp-Oudtshoorn area for spekboom restoration purposes was done by Jan Vlok of Regalis Environmental Services for the GCBR. Severely transformed areas are defined as having less than 10% of spekboom canopy cover. Jan found 13 200ha out of ca 120 000ha severely transformed. Restoration intervention would be required. Less transformed areas can recover in time, provided proper veld management is in place. Jan says that spekboom does not grow on calcrete, alluvial soils and heuweltjies (those fairy circles seen on aerial photographs & caused by termites). Lately he has noticed that a higher prevalence of granaatbosse, Rhigozum obovatum (these are covered in yellow flowers shortly after rain), is an indicator of lost spekboom veld. About a thousand plants can be planted in a hectare. With 80% unemployment in the area this could be an incredible opportunity for the local population. Let’s hold thumbs for them. During question time Jan explained that one can expect a survival success rate of as high as 70% of planted, unrooted cuttings (60cm long cuttings in holes 15cm deep).

Sandra Falanga

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