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.
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
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
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.