Bringing the vlei back to life
The Princess Vlei restoration project Growing Conservation Communities seeks to ignite community led conservation to restore critical habitats in the Greater Princess Vlei Conservation Area. It is projected to encompass the largest community led mass-planting event in the Greater Cape Floristic Region. While planting has been happening for ten years, the scope and rigour of this restoration plan takes the process to a new level.
The plan began in 2018 with mapping the site to assess the condition of the vegetation on site. Once this was completed, work was done to identify target sites for restoration; prepare the ground through alien and litter clearance; collect seeds on site and in neighbouring similar habitats; cultivate and plant these.
Biodiversity at Princess Vlei has been impacted by several human encounters. In the 19th century, the land was used for vegetable and flower farming. Soil was stabilised by planting Rooikrans (Acacia cyclops) and Port Jacksons (Acacia saligna) – both are alien invasive species found on site today. In the 1940’s canals were constructed to channel storm water and manage the seasonal water level fluctuation. The vlei was dredged to stop flooding when Prince George Drive was widened.
More recently the area has been used for recreational activities such as angling, braaing, dog walking, and sports. Severe neglect by the authorities over several decades led to these activities taking a heavy toll on the vegetation on site. Although the management has improved, some littering, sand mining and dumping continues to impact some areas.
However, remnants of the endemic Cape Flats Dune Strandveld (CFDS) and the critically endangered Cape Flats Sand Fynbos (CFSF) remain within the Greater Princess Vlei Conservation Area (GPVCA). Six sand fynbos plant species are recorded as extinct, and around 100 more species of Conservation Concern survive in several, mostly degraded, urban remnants. It’s critical that all efforts be made to restore these species as far as possible.
Over the next three years, we are planning to restore 5 to 10 hectares of three endangered habitat types. This will include reintroducing 17 threatened species to the conservation area, including Erica verticillata and Serruria foeniculacea. Both grew widely in the area in the past (Erica Verticillata gave Heathfield its name) but are now extinct in the wild. An intensive monitoring programme will track the success of the rehabilitation. The conservation returns will contribute towards multiple targets of the National Plant Conservation Strategy.
School learners and community members will be involved in every step of the process. The seeds and seedlings are planted by large groups from the community, and local schools. Follow up work is done with school learners to assess the survival rate of the plants, check pollinator and other faunal activity. Environmental Education workshops will be held to introduce communities to nature and conservation. Creative arts will be used to build awareness of the project, and to build appreciation of biodiversity. Researchers and tertiary institutions are invited to participate in and study the project.
We plan to use this restoration project as a modular and scalable model for community led active conservation project in an urban setting. The enriched condition of the habitat will allow for more diverse community interactions between fauna and flora of all kinds and define conservation and Princess Vlei for decades to come. But the project will also grow a network of community conservationists, with a passion for nature and the skills to protect and nurture it.