Greening their neighbourhood

2009-03-04 00:00

CITY authorities want Pietermaritzburg to be known as the City of Choice. A group of residents in the northwestern suburbs have another name for it: “the weed capital of the country”. However, they are not just resorting to name-calling, but investing their time and effort in addressing, not just the weeds, but wider environmental issues too.

“I have documented 80 different alien and invasive plant species in the area, which is paradise for weeds, for example a section of Peter Brown Drive, which I call ‘Weed Alley’. This is partly because conditions vary so dramatically, ranging from shallow rocky to deep humic soils, and from areas that receive 750 mm of rain annually to others that get 1 300 mm. The vegetation varies from yellowwood forest in the mist belt through commercial plantations to acacia woodlands behind the Liberty Midlands Mall,” explained Kelson Camp, chairman of the Ferncliffe Catchment Conservancy.

“We are a group of concerned citizens who want to promote the environmentally sustainable resource management of the catchment area of the Town Bush and Chase Valley streams and the surroundings. We strive to do this by creating environmental awareness, encouraging community participation and promoting integrated catchment management and sound land use designed to protect natural resources and biodiversity,” Camp said.

This voluntary group started in 1995 and has been active ever since. It holds monthly meetings and its constitution requires it to have a minimum of 20 members to operate. It currently has about 50 members, plus representatives from Umgeni Water, NCT Forestry Co-operative and the Msunduzi Municipality, with which it works closely.

Camp explained that the conservancy covers about 26 square kilometres stretching from Hilton Gardens along the watershed to Claridge, down Otto’s Bluff Road to the Liberty Midlands Mall, then up Old Howick Road, to World’s View and back to Hilton. The issues it deals with are as diverse as the bioresource units or reasonably homogeneous ecological areas embraced by the conservancy.

With a background in conservation and ecology in the natural resources section of Cedara College, Camp clearly cannot abide weeds. “We are currently losing the battle against alien invaders in the conservancy area. Aliens smother all the indigenous plants so you lose biodiversity — all the birds, insects, reptiles and mammals supported by indigenous vegetation. Many aliens are also poisonous and use far too much water. In some areas, streams that haven’t flowed for 30 years or more have been known to start running again after aliens were cleared.”

Conservancy members work with the Msunduzi Municipality and local residential and commercial landowners to encourage the eradication of aliens and the maintenance of weed-free areas. They plan to rehabilitate the Hampton Court wetland alongside Town Bush Road which is currently choked with castor oil bushes, bugweed and American bramble. Interested people may sponsor an indigenous tree and a bag of compost at Dunrobin Nursery or volunteer their physical labour to help with the wetland reclamation.

Another initiative aimed at eradicating aliens is the Adopt-a-Stream Project which encourages local residents to take care of streams bordering their properties. Several housing complexes have done so, including Ferndale, Neden Lodge and Dagmar Gardens on Ann Stafford Drive. The banks of the nearby stream are park-like, with indigenous and other shrubs planted in expanses of mown grass. Unfortunately, the stream bed itself is still full of weeds as it is “the most difficult area to clear”.

Among the other issues the conservancy addresses are pollution and soil erosion. “Because this is mostly a residential area, the biggest pollution problem we have is solid waste. There is a lot of illegal dumping of household rubbish and garden refuse in the plantations which are owned by the municipality and managed by NCT Forestry Co-operative. All we can really do is keep a watching brief and inform the municipality of dumping that needs to be removed.”

A major cause of soil erosion is the harvesting of trees, with the biggest incidence occurring at the Monzali slip, a bank of 15 metres that occasionally collapses after heavy storms. “The colour of the stream flowing past the Cascades centre is an accurate monitor of the slip — when erosion occurs, the stream runs red. We suggested that trees be planted to stabilise the bank, but our proposal was vetoed. We are still working with the landowner to try to solve this problem,” said Camp.

In future editions of The Witness, look out for a series of articles written by conservancy members on the following topics:

• what is a conservancy?;

• municipal plantations;

• adopt-a-stream stream rehabilitation; and

• burning.

• juliadd@witness.co.za

Ferncliffe Catchment Conservancy

To join the Ferncliffe Catchment Conservancy or find out more about its projects, contact Kelson Camp at 033 394 2948 or

kelsonc@eject.co.za

Other conservancies in the midlands

A conservancy is a non-statutory forum formed by local people to manage and improve their living environments in both rural and urban environments. There are 119 registered urban, rural, school or tertiary conservancies in the province covering 1 447 237 hectares of land.

There are several conservancies in the midlands area, including:

• Balgowan Conservancy, said to be the first and the prototype for others in the province, started in 1978 by landowners in the area who were concerned about general environmental degradation and declining numbers of game. Started with help from the then Natal Parks Board, it now has several ongoing projects including wetland restoration, conservation education for school children, and a mountain bike event.

• Dargle Conservancy, the main project of which is the establishment of a nature reserve under the national biodiversity stewardship programme.

• Lower Mpushini Conservancy launched in 2006 when a group of Ashburton residents opposed a proposed housing development. It is situated 10 kilometres east of the city in the Ashburton valley bushveld and savannah grassland. It is known for its aloe festival held in June to promote the wilderness areas of Ashburton and encourage people to learn more about its biodiversity.

• Baynespruit Conservancy, which consists of interested parties, including an environmental NGO, local government and the Sobantu community, who have formed a group to clean up the city’s most polluted stream: the Baynespruit.

• Dorpspruit River and Community Development Project — established in recent years and concerned with the rehabilitation of the Dorpspruit area.

• Prestbury Conservancy focuses on planting indigenous trees and plants on the verges of Prestbury.

• Karkloof Conservancy, well known for the Mr Price Karfkloof Classic mountain biking festival in May.

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