The Elandsberg Hakea Challenge: report back and way forward

by Donovan Kotze, 21 November 2019

 

The urgent need for local action to control invasive alien trees in the Mountain Catchment

Areas supplying water to the Ladismith area

One of the greatest threats to key water resource areas in the Mountain Catchment Areas of the Western Cape are

invasive alien trees1. Dense infestations of hakea and pine trees generally result in more than a 10% increase in water

loss to the atmosphere2, and thus if these trees are not controlled then this will result in a reduction in yield of many

millions of liters of water, with potentially severe impacts on the businesses and farms which depend on this water,

especially during droughts. This has particular relevance to Ladismith and the surrounding farms, with almost all of our

water supplied by the Klein Swartberg Mountains.

A few years back, Cape Nature were actively clearing in the mountains above Ladismith, but they are now faced with

shrinking resources to carry this out, and have done almost no clearing here in the last few years. Therefore, local action

is desperately required. Over the last 15 months, three volunteers (myself, Hugh Sussen and Samantha Adey) have been

clearing invasive alien trees once or twice a month. Over this time, we have systematically covered over 1 500 hectares

of mainly sparsely infested areas and have cut down more than 4200 trees. However, if we are going to win the battle

then several more people are required to become involved, particularly to help with the remaining more densely

infested areas, which cover at least 70 ha (and possibly much more) of the lower to central areas of the Waterkloof

catchment, the primary water source for Ladismith Town. Further infestations in the upper Waterkloof catchment are

also strongly suspected.

One of the areas (about 15 ha in size) densely infested with hakea on the slopes of Elandsberg in the catchment of
Waterkloof which supplies Ladismith town

In an attempt to draw more people into clearing invasive alien plants, we organized the Elandsberg Hakea Challenge

with the goal of cutting down at least 3000 invasive alien trees. The challenge was advertised through local contacts and

social media, and included two clearing events (09 and 15 November) for which the GCBR kindly sponsored gloves and

saws.

The 09 November clearing event

A total of eight volunteers began the first Elandsberg hakea challenge early on the morning of 09 November

2019. Although the long steep ascent proved too much for one of the volunteers who turned back, the seven

other volunteers all made it to the site (see below) to be able to clear the hakea.

The group included Ladismith residents, Zelde Coetzee, Hugh Sussen, Samantha Adey, Donovan Kotze and

Wesley Morgan, as well as visitors Roderick Juba from Living Lands, Joubertina and Kgaugelo Shadung and

Malvin Baloyi from Cape Nature, Oudtshoorn, who we were very pleased to have join us.

Location of the November 2019 hakea challenge on the slopes of the Elandsberg, in a strategically

important area between generally very low infestations in the west and several high infestations in the east

Given the small number of participants, and that two of the participants could only join the event after the

starting time, it was decided to work as a single team to clear a 2 ha block of hakea, which consisted of

approximately 0.3 ha which was highly infested and 1.7 ha which was moderately infested. Despite our small

number, we managed to meet the challenge of cutting down about 1650 trees and clearing the 2 ha, for which

handsaws and gloves sponsored by GCBR were much appreciated. Thanks GCBR!

 

The 15 November clearing event

The Elandsberg hakea challenge continued on 15 November with eight farmworkers (Eldrige Jantjies, Zandre

Jantjies, Ryno Stoffels, Henrico Bergman, Dylinn Volmink, Ulrich Snyman, Johenzlo Jafta and Danny Rooi) who

were very kindly sponsored by two local farmers Ben Kotzé and Estelle de Jager. The team did well to clear

approximately 2 ha, of which approximately 0.7 ha was highly infested and the remaining 1.3 ha moderately

infested. I worked with the team, while Hugh Sussen cleared scattered trees on the steep rocky slopes

nearby. Overall, we cleared approximately 2700 trees.

A proposed way forward

Although more than 4000 trees have been cut and about four hectares were cleared in the challenge, at least

another 30 hectares of hakea infestation remain on the Elandsberg slopes nearby, which continue to threaten

the mountain environment and the water resources of Ladismith. Few local volunteers participated in the event

on 09 November despite the event being actively promoted. Thus, although we will continue to promote

clearing by volunteers, especially in the less heavily infested areas, further clearing by volunteers alone is likely

to be slow. In contrast, further use of a farmworker team is likely to provide much more rapid progress.

The team of farm workers worked well and indicated their eagerness to participate again in the future. The

sponsorship of these workers by two local farmers was very generous, particularly considering the extreme

pressure that farmers are already under in the current drought. This sponsorship has set an excellent example

for the future, and an appeal could be made to local businesses and concerned individuals to sponsor the team

for additional clearing events.

Seven of the eight farmworkers in the team are temporary workers, and with the drought there is significantly

less work available on the farms for workers such as these. Thus, clearing of hakea provides a potentially

valuable income source for these individuals and their families during this difficult time.

Sponsoring the hakea team would therefore contribute in several important ways:

  • Securing Ladismith’s natural mountain environment
  • Securing Ladismith’s water supply
  • Relieving poverty
  • Building the self-worth and capability of team members to generate an honest income
  • Ultimately building a more resilient Ladismith community with an improved capacity to work together in overcoming environmental and social challenges

References
1 Cousins S, Singels E, and Kraaij T, 2018. Invasive alien plants in South Africa pose huge risks, but they can be stopped [online]. http://theconversation.com/invasive-alien-plants-in-south-africa-pose-huge-risks-but-they-can-be-stopped-94186 Richardson D M and vanWilgen B W, 2004. Invasive alien plants in South Africa: how well do we understand the ecological impacts? S. Afr. J. Sci. 100, 45–52.

2 Görgens A and Howard G, 2016. The impacts of different degrees of alien plant invasion on yields from the Western Cape water supply system: Final Report Document produced for CSIR. Aurecon, Cape Town.

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