R5?million fine for alien plants

2014-08-07 00:00

LAWS that come into force in October oblige property sellers to inform the purchaser in writing of the presence of listed invasive species on their property as a condition of the sale. Failure to do so comes with a fine of R5 million.

“This is no small matter as thus far 559 species have been listed as invasive in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act,” said Durban lawyer Ian Cox. “Many of the species that have been listed are commonly found in the average suburban garden.”

Last Friday, Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa published the Lists and Regulations on Alien Invasive Species. These come into effect on October 1.

Regulation 35(2) of the regulations makes failure to comply with this obligation a criminal offence punishable by a fine of up to R5 million — R10 million in respect of a second offence — and/or a period of imprisonment of up to 10 years.

“If you have a mulberry tree you must report it and have a permit for it,” said Cox. “Otherwise you are obliged to cut it down. If you don’t, you are looking at a criminal offence.”

Regulations under the NEM:BA must be published for comment before they can be made law. “This did not happen in this case which means the public has been deprived of an opportunity of ­commenting on a law which will seriously affect the rights …” said Cox.

DEA spokesperson Zolile Nqayi said the provision is in line with Section 73 of the act, which details the “duty of care related to listed invasive species”.

“It does not impact on rights in relation to immovable property but merely requires a seller to notify a buyer,” Nqayi said. “The seller is not required to clear the invasive species before sale but simply to notify the buyer of its presence.”

Nqayi said this is so that new owners become aware of the laws relating to invasive species and that they, “like the previous owner, possibly have some obligation to control depending on the species and what category in which it is listed”.

• Stephen.Coan@witness.co.za

• Great legislation but can you enforce it?

That was the overall reaction to the Lists and Regulations on Alien Invasive Species published by the Department of Environmental Affairs last Friday using the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act.

“It’s a very good step but I would like to see how it can be enforced,” said Charles Botha, co-author with Julia Botha, of the best-selling Bring Nature Back to Your Garden.

These comments were echoed by environmental activist Wally Menne: “There are some minor improvements but otherwise they seem to have lost the plot.

“Guava and other invasive plants — such as the loquat — have been given the green light because they are fruit plants. The same applies to the timber trees, such as pines and gums. There are provisos they must be in a plantation but then it says you can plant them around a farm house or as a windbreak.

“But the real problem is the enforcement of these regulations,” said Menne. “The worse infestations are on state land. Nobody has lifted a finger there — and these regulations have been on the cards since 2006.”

The regulations were initially supposed to be promulgated on August 31, 2006. When they weren’t, the Kloof Conservancy brought an action in the Durban high court to “compel the government to implement Invasive Alien Species legislation”. Judgment was reserved at a hearing in April.

Christina Curry, deputy chairperson of the Pietermaritzburg Botanical Society, said the promulgated regulations were more specific than the draft regulations.

She said plants listed as Category 1A as prohibited looked to target “emerging weeds”. “They are really trying to stop disasters before they happen. Whereas with ones that have already taken hold they are recommending control programmes. There it’s too late, the horse has already bolted.”

• No, it’s not an avocado. Or a mango.

The Indian laurel (Litsea glutinosa) tops the hit list of Durban’s invasive aliens.

They are all over the city in streets and gardens, said Charles Botha, co-author with Julia Botha, of the bestselling Bring Nature Back to Your Garden.

“They are worse than lantana,” he said. “People like them because they look like avocado pear trees. But when they are only 10 cm high they have root systems four times as long.”

Botha said they are difficult to poison and if cut they coppice. “They are extremely strong — there is one near my home that has come up through a tarred road and another that has bored through a concrete wall.”

Horticulturalist Chris Dalzell, former curator of the Durban Botanical Gardens, agreed, “Indian laurel is a huge problem in Durban. People think they are like mangos and let them grow and the birds love them.

“I spend my life in Kloof digging them out because they put down a huge tap root. They are all over Kloof.”

Dalzell was recently commissioned to survey a forest at the Cornubia development site to identify trees that should be re-located.

“99,9% were Indian laurel,” he said.

Plants aren’t the only menace. The Common or Indian Mynah and the Rose-ringed parakeet are also listed as invasive aliens.

“Rose-ringed parakeet are highly destructive of crops,” said Botha. “People think, ‘Oh, they are so lovely’. But if we let them spread we are heading for a disaster.

“They are the same as invasive plants that started off in gardens as pretty ornamentals and then spread all over the place.”

Christina Curry, deputy vice-chairperson of the Pietermaritzburg Botanical Society, said the biggest problem invasive in Pietermaritzburg was Cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa).

“It’s a huge problem. And it’s not easy to eradicate,” she said. Adding that it would require a dual campaign involving both residents and the municipality to combat the species.

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