‘I came here because I love the vlei… and when I heard what had happened, I was devastated, it was so sad…. I had been really excited that the vlei was being restored, especially when some plants that had been extinct were replanted, and when I heard of those being crushed it was just awful, so I felt I had to come back today to replant some of the things.
So said Colleen Saunders at the Princess Vlei Forum ‘Heal the Land’ event on 22 May. Colleen has been living near Princess Vlei for over 50 years.
The event was held after a contractor hired by the City of Cape Town to clear water hyacinth caused major damage to the Princess Vlei shoreline and destroyed one of the Forum’s newly established restoration sites. Plants that were destroyed included the critically endangered serruria foeniculacea and Erica verticillate. Over 174 metres of shoreline grass, bulrushes and other vegetation was destroyed.
Further damage was averted when Zoë Poulsen, who was walking her dog at the vlei, spotted the excavator and stood in front of the machine until she could alert Forum members who contacted ward councillor Kevin Southgate and parks officials to stop the operation. Without Zoe’s courageous act, the forum’s entire shoreline restoration project would have been destroyed.
Alex Lansdowne, a restoration specialist who is over-seeing the Forum’s restoration project, said, ‘A team that has been contracted by the City’s Catchment, Stormwater, and Rivers Management department to repair the damage has been helping to remove the biomass dumped on the shoreline. However, there is still a dense layer of dumped wetland biomass on the restoration area, which meant that we could not plant there. This is troubling as it is critical to get these plants in as soon as possible in the rainy season to enable the area to recover. The biomass is also covering the seedbank which needs to be exposed to germinate.
Disrupting the shoreline will also disrupt the breeding cycles of aquatic animals such as the endangered Wester Leopard Toad.
A group of about twenty concerned citizens came together on Saturday to try to replant some of the lost plants. About 250 plants were put in and over 1000 wachendorfia paniculata bulbs. Plants included Serruria Foeniculacea and the threatened Psoralea repens. Some of these were rescued from a field in Muizenberg where development was taking place.
It is difficult replacing the lost plants as these plants are grown from seed harvested on or around the vlei and may take 18 months to reach a size where they can be replanted.
Unita van Vuuren, another local resident who lives opposite the vlei, said that she was grateful for the opportunity to plant because ‘our society is entrenched in consumerism and cannot come to mother earth … I am a local living just across the road and feeling I can do something for my little area makes me feel grounded.’
High school learner Charna De Wet said that she enjoyed the planting because it made her feel peaceful.
Zoë Poulsen said that she appreciated the opportunity to plant. ‘It was so heartbreaking to see the destruction of the restoration area when such a lot of hard work had gone into it. Replanting helped to dissipate some of that pain.’
Denisha Anand, who oversees the Forum’s education and restoration project, spoke of the need for authorities to be more connected to the natural areas under their management, ‘We need to get them to wake up to that care … but we are so grateful for the growing community coming back to the vlei to support the work that we do, and to grow another form of care.’
The Forum has lost thousands of rands on destroyed plants and labour, as well as many volunteer hours. They have written to the mayor to express their concern and ask for a meeting to discuss what the City will do to address the issue. The Forum hopes that speedy action will be taken, and that the City will find a way to work with them in a more co-operative, caring and communicative way in the future.
Posts by Bridget Pitt unless stated otherwise.