The Green Bobbies started their training this week on the corner of Valley Road and Willow Lane in Winterskloof. The first area of focus being the land on which the uMngeni Municipality’s Environmental Health Offices are located, next to the Winterskloof Tennis Courts. This patch of land is infested with invasive alien plants, mainly camphor trees, bugweed, ginger, cestrum and lantana. There are many Camphor seedlings (Category 1 Invasives – have to go!) which are growing from seeds dropped from the mature trees in the area. There is also evidence of dumping of food waste and other litter, which is unacceptable for the offices housing the Environmental Health department of the uMngeni Municipality!
It is vital that all residents attend to their own invasive alien plants while the Conservancy works on the public spaces, otherwise we will not win this war. And a war it is. In their review of the Working for Water programme, Engineering News stated that:
The programme was started in 1995 to reduce what was then perceived to be the single biggest threat to the country’s biological biodiversity and water security – invasive alien plants (IAPs), which intensify the effect of fires and floods and increase soil erosion, while also diverting water from more productive uses and impeding industries such as agriculture, fisheries, transport, recreation and water supply, causing billions of rands of damage to South Africa’s economy every year. The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) explains that invasive alien species are plants, animals and microbes that are introduced into countries, and then out-compete the indigenous species, and states that, of the estimated 9 000 plants introduced to the country, 198 are currently classified as being invasive. To date, the Working for Water (WfW) programme has cleared 2.1-million hectares of IAPs, with follow-up treatment of the areas. It is estimated that these plants cover about 10% (19-million hectares) of the country and the problem is growing at an exponential rate.
The DEA states that Working for Water’s sister programme Working for Wetlands needs to grow as well. It is estimated that between 35% and 50% of South Africa’s wetlands have been lost or degraded. This loss has been accompanied by a corresponding decline in the ecosystem services provided by wetlands, such as flood attenuation, water quality enhancement, groundwater recharge and provision of food and fibre. The broader consequences of large-scale wetland loss include reduced food security; reduction in biodiversity; desertification; increased vulnerability to natural disasters, especially floods and droughts; lost livelihoods; and diminished water security. “By 2025, South Africa will be one of 14 African countries classified as being subject to water scarcity, defined as less than 1 000 m3 for each person a year. In such a context, the services provided by wetlands become all the more valuable,” Marais says.
The national wetland inventory has to date mapped 119 120 wetlands, totalling 4,2-million hectares, or 3,3% of the country’s surface area. Working for Wetlands freshwater programme director John Dini says applying the estimate that 35% to 50% of these wetlands are partially or totally degraded produces an estimate of between 41 000 and 59 000 wetlands that may require human intervention to improve their health and integrity. “At the moment, the programme intervenes in only about 100 each year,” he adds. Further, data from the Advanced Fire Information System, which is run by the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), has estimated that on average some 2.4-million hectares burn each year. Working on Fire supports land users and fire management agencies in some 500 000 ha of these. All these interventions are aimed at improving the functioning and ecosystem services from wetlands, grasslands and savanna.
Due to our favourable climate – high rainfall and moderate temperatures, the invasive plants love our Valley and we will all need to work together to deal with this problem. We also live in a watershed, so getting the streams and wetlands functioning again is a priority for downstream beneficiaries of the water our Valley supplies.
By next week we should have the signs to advertise the Green Bobbies at work, so please keep an eye out for them. Thanks to the residents of Willow Lane for assisting with the first phase of the Green Bobbies programme.
We have completed the first week (Tues 13 & Wed 14 March) of Invasive Alien Plant clearing in Willow Lane – what a huge task for all involved! The Green Bobbies, under the mentorship of Sipho, their trainer from Everton Conservancy, started their work at the uMngeni Municipal Environmental Health Offices and Winterskloof Tennis Courts on the corner of Valley Road and Willow Lane. It is infested with weeds, most of which are listed as Category I invasives. The team worked methodically, to ensure they identified and treated all the invasive plants they found. The work in this section will be continued next week (Tuesday only, as Wednesday is a public holiday!) and Sipho will again come up to help train and mentor the team. He has been impressed with the attitude and the ability of the Green Bobby team members to quickly learn the techniques and identify the range of invasive alien plants we have. They have recorded (and will continue to do so) all the plants (species and numbers) they have treated and removed, so that we will be able to formally report on progress.
Remember that the Green Bobbies are extra eyes and ears for the security initiative and have been trained by Red Alert to provide assistance to the Red Bobbies in their crime prevention work. We are also hoping to get them training on snare identification and removal by our resident District Control Officer (DCO) from eZemvelo KZN Wildlife, which will add to their skills and range of work.
Request for Equipment:
We are needing to get garden forks and pruning loppers (long handles, short blades) and would appreciate it if anyone is able to get us sponsorship for these items. We will need at least 3 of each. Please see our contact details below if you are able to assist.
- As from the beginning of April, Wildlands Conservation Trust will take the Green Bobbies onto their books, as part of their Job Creation initiative, which will relieve us of the costs of their wages, so we can continue to do more.
- Sipho believes that by the end of April, we will be able to start the training of the next team of Green Bobbies – we will be looking for 4 new members to start a new team, with one of the existing members becoming the supervisor of this new team.
- By the end of June, we will then start to train another team of 4 Green Bobbies. This will mean that soon we will be able to have 11 Green Bobbies working in our Valley to make a significant impact on the invasive alien plants choking our forests, grasslands, wetlands and streams.
- Depending on the administrative burden to our volunteers, we may be able to extend their work to 3 days per week and then start to offer trained teams for the remaining 2 days per week to residents to clear their gardens. The proposed fee for this will generate funds for the Conservancy to continue our work and pay for the training and other costs we incur.
- World’s View Conservancy have been offered the opportunity to train up a team of Green Bobbies for their Conservancy’s Invasive Alien Plant clearing work – we await confirmation of their intention to join us.
- Harold, from Willow Lane who assisted by providing secure storage for our equipment and herbicides and overseeing the work.
- Other Willow Laners for encouraging us to use the public spaces and verges in their area for the first steps of this initiative.
- Mia Baker for providing accommodation to Sipho for the duration of his training and mentorship.
- Richard Heathcote for his invaluable herbicide expertise and advice.
- Ryan Brudvig from Department of Environmental Affairs for the donation of protective and other equipment, as well as herbicides and literature, which Hayley Martin kindly fetched for us.
- Harold Rees for assisting with buying and other essential tasks.
- Wildlands Conservation Trust for their continued and enthusiastic support.