Bringing the vlei back to life
The Princess Vlei restoration project seeks to consolidate community led conservation to restore critical habitats in the Greater Princess Vlei Conservation Area, building on early efforts to plant fynbos in protest against the mall.
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 human interaction. 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, 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. Six sand fynbos plant species are recorded as extinct, and around 100 more are species of Conservation Concern, surviving in scattered, mostly degraded, urban remnants. It’s critical that all efforts be made to restore these species.
Since 2018 we have actively restored one hectare and rehabilitated fivehectares of three endangered habitat types. This includes reintroducing 17 threatened species to the conservation area, such 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.
School learners and community members have been involved in every step of the process. The seeds and seedlings are planted by groups from the community, and local schools. School learners assist in monitoring to assess the survival rate of the plants, check pollinator and other faunal activity. Creative art projects have helped to build awareness of the project, and to build appreciation of biodiversity. Researchers and tertiary institutions have also been invited to participate in and study the project.
This restoration project represents a modular and scalable model for community-led active conservation project in an urban setting, and we hope it will inform and inspire similar projects in other locations. The restored habitat benefits a diverse community of fauna and flora. But the project is also growing a network of community conservationists, with a passion for nature and the skills to protect and nurture it.