So said Elfindale resident, Vicky Thomas, at the Alien Hackathon at Princess Vlei on Saturday 17 April.
The hackathon was organised jointly by the Kirstenbosch Botanical Society, and the Princess Vlei Forum. Over a hectare of Port Jackson trees and shrubs were removed from the area by more than 30 volunteers from different parts of Cape Town.
Port Jackson poses a serious threat to the indigenous Dune Strandveld in that part of the vlei. It drains the water table, and alters the soil, making it harder for the indigenous plants to grow. The Port Jackson trees also make the area unsafe as they interfere with visibility.
The group were introduced to the activity by Alex Lansdowne, a specialist in fynbos restoration who has been contracted by the Princess Vlei Forum to oversee a community led restoration programme.
‘Our conservation project has two prongs:’ Lansdowne explained. ‘The Greater Princess Vlei Conservation Area has some really good areas of habitat with high ecosytem function and high plant diversity. We need to protect those areas and do “passive restoration” by doing alien removal, keeping out vehicles and preventing dumping and littering.
‘Then there are some parts of the conservation area with very low plant diversity, such as the grassy areas, which have a lot of alien grass and also get mowed all the time. What we are doing in these areas is clearing the alien grasses, and planting out specially cultivated indigenous plants. We have added about 30% to the plant diversity so far in this way. We will be planting the critically endangered Cape Flats Sand Fynbos near Briana drive, as this is the vegetation that would have originally grown there.
Lansdowne said that the Princess Vlei Conservation Area had to overcome decades of under-management and neglect.
Chris Moir, from the Kirstenbosch Branch of the Botanical Society, said that one of the objectives of the society was to assist organisations in conserving indigenous flora and vegetation. She said that in line with the Kirstenbosch branch of Botsoc’s objectives, restoring Cape Flats Sand Fynbos was an area where degraded habitat could be addressed, and where the society could offer help to secure under-conserved vegetation types and species. She said it was hoped that the society’s contribution would help to enthuse the local community about our botanical heritage, and encourage them to be custodians of the Princess Vlei surrounds.
Tom Robbins, Committee member of the Kristenbosch branch of the Botanical Society said, 'The Forum is championing the ground-breaking restoration of Princess Vlei, including the eradication of Port Jackson trees (Acacia saligna) in the relatively intact Cape Flats Dune Strandveld vegetation type. If left uncontrolled, the Port Jackson will likely become increasingly dominant, reducing biodiversity in plants, insects and birds alongside the water body. Moreover, what makes the restoration a natural fit with the Botanical Society is the local community-driven aspect of the Forum’s work. The restoration of this previously neglected wetland is being done for the benefit and use of the communities that live around the Vlei.’
Restoring the indigenous vegetation at Princess Vlei can play a significant role in promoting biodiversity and saving our precious plant species from extinction. This is becoming increasingly urgent. The UN has declared the 2020's the decade of ecosystem restoration, stating that ‘there has never been a more urgent need to restore damaged ecosystems than now.’ Ecosystems support all life on Earth, and are critical for our health and well being.
Jill Atwood Palm, a Windsor Park resident said, ‘I live straight across the road from the Vlei. iIt’s absolutely amazing to see the work being done, so as residents we are very happy and would love to get more support from the neighbours. I was fortunate to participate in the walk and it opened my eyes to the gem that we have right here on our doorstep. So get involved, come and see what it is right here under your noses…. it’s actually not that much work… learn a bit more and get fully involved.’
The Princess Vlei Forum would like to thank the highly effective BotSoc hacking team, for their help and use of their specialised tools and equipment. BotSoc has also generously donated funds, expertise and time to our restoration projection.
We would also like to thank the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust for enabling our ongoing conservation work through donor funds.
And a big thanks to all community members who gave up their Saturday morning and worked hard sawing and cutting branches, poisoning stumps and dragging the cut material. The fynbos plants will thank you and reward your efforts!