An enthusiastic group of about 30 people gathered on 21 August to help restore indigenous fynbos at Princess Vlei - but this time they weren’t planting, but cutting trees down.
This was the second mass-clearing hack at the Greater Princess Vlei Conservation Area hosted by the Princess Vlei Forum and Botanical Society Kirstenbosch. Clearing invasive alien plants is critical to enable regrowth and restoration of indigenous species.
A seasonal seep between the two vleis was selected for clearing. This area burnt in summer 2019/2020 and a surprising diversity of species have been found germinating from the seed bank underground. It is a priority to clear this area as the habitat has great rehabilitation potential.
The seep was invaded with an impenetrable thicket of White Poplar (Poplus alba), Black Alder (Alnus glutinosa), and Port Jackson (Acacia saligna). The youngest plants were 1 year old seedlings, and the largest were 5 meter tall Port Jacksons.
One of the signature species we have been involved in restoring at Princess Vlei is Serruria foeniculacea, the Rondevlei Spiderhead.
Princess Vlei is a sister conservation area to the well-known Rondevlei Nature Reserve.
Botanial records show that historically Princess Vlei would have had a very similar plant
community to Rondevlei.
The story of Serruria foeniculacea is the story of successful species conservation on the Cape Flats. This narrowly endemic member of the Protea family was only ever found around the Grassy Park area and was last seen at Princess Vlei in 1910.
It was thought to be extinct, but in the 1970’s two plants were found on an open space near Rondevlei Nature Reserve. They were translocated into the conservation area by then manager Howard Langley. Back-up plants were created via cutting with Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, and these were used to bulk this population.
Through the perseverance of generations of conservationists such as Langley and Dalton Gibbs, a population of about 350 plants is well established at Rondevlei. Building on this work, the Princess Vlei Forum is working to reintroduce this species to Princess Vlei.
In 2020 one hundred and ten plants were planted in a test planting at Princess Vlei. By April 2021 ninety seven plants had survived their first summer. A further hundred plants were restored to different test plantings around the main water body in winter 2021.
Going forward, this priority species will be restored to multiple subpopulations around the Greater Princess Vlei Conservation Area, with the restoration goal of over 1000 individuals successfully restored. This would make Princess Vlei home to the largest global population of this threatened Protea.
During the months of May and June, the City hired contractors to improve the gateway precinct of Princess Vlei on the Eastern Shore.
The work done forms part of a multimillion rand project to create a 5 km circulatory track around Princess Vlei, including a boardwalk through the reeds. The walkway has long been on the community's wish list, and has been identified by several community groups as high on their list of priorities for the park.
The work done so far marks the first phase of the development. Like many of the other improvements, it has been strongly championed by Cllr Kevin Southgate, who has also given generously from the ward funding allocations to improve the site. Projects enabled by ward funding include the children's play park.
Improvements now include grassing the picnic area adjacent to the M5 entrance, paving and marking an area to be used for a market in the future, paving pathways, landscaping and planting 25 indigenous trees. Plans for this improvement may be accessed here (note the lower walkway path has not yet been completed)
The following slide show depicts the enhanced area.
On May 6, a City contractor caused extensive damage to the shoreline and restoration areas on the eastern shore of Princess Vlei (read our report here). On May 31 Councillor Zahid Badroodien, Mayoral Committee Member for Community Services and Health, issued the following press release. Our response follows below:
"Several City of Cape Town departments are responsible for the management and maintenance of the vlei, but as the lead department, the City’s Recreation and Parks Department sincerely regrets the incident, where through the services being rendered by one of the City contractors, the eastern shoreline of the Princess Vlei was damaged.
As lead department, Recreation and Parks will facilitate the process to address this issue.
The Department investigated the incident and based on the outcome, the following will be actioned:
The Recreation and Park Department undertakes to provide regular feedback to the Forum on progress made with regards the mentioned actions and the rehabilitation of the area in question. ENDS"
The Forum welcomes the City’s commitment to rehabilitate the damaged area, but would like to note the following:
‘Today we are planting plants for the environment, and to bring animals closer. This plant is Skilpad Bessies, they are fynbos plants, so it makes a habitat for the tortoise.’
So said Mushfeeq Davids, a grade 8 learner at Lotus High. Mushfeeq was one of twenty Lotus High learners who came to help with the Forum’s restoration planting on the Northern shore..
After a few years of hard work the rehabilitation areas on the Eastern shore of Princess Vlei are establishing well, enabling the Forum to move to the northern shore of Princess Vlei, which was historically home to the critically endangered Cape Flats Sand Fynbos.
On May 12, thirty volunteers from local schools, the Briana Drive community and Botanical Society Kirstenbosch Branch came together to do the first planting of the season. 712 plants of 11 species were planted. An additional 15 species were added through the scattering of 45 litres of seed. Further planting in July brings the total up to 1700 plants, an 8 extra species bringing the new species to 44
Cape Flats Sand Fynbos is a critically endangered vegetation type that is only found on the lowlands of Cape Town. These unique habitats have been decimated by the expansion of urban Cape Town, which has left only small islands of Cape Flats Sand Fynbos, most of which is degraded in some way. Restoring this endemic plant community is critical for ensuring the long term survival of many threatened species. The United Nations has declared the 2020’s the decade of restoration, in recognition of the critical role this plays in rolling back catastrophic environmental destruction due to climate change, pollution and habitat loss.In the first quarter of 2021 The Forum cleared the 1500square/meters restoration plotplot of invasive alien kikuyu and kweek grass. During this clearing a seasonal wetland pond was revealed within the grassy seep. Rubble was removed from this seasonal pond which will act as an important breeding area for amphibians such as the endangered Western Cape Leopard Toad.
Twenty school learners from Lotus High came to plant on May 12. Addressing the learners, the Princess Vlei Forum rehabilitation advisor, Alex Lansdowne, said, ‘This area has been mowed every year. It should be rich in fynbos and wetland ecosystems, yet only a few grass species and weeds are growing here now. We are bringing back about 50 fynbos species, which will not only recreate this unique plant community but also support the animals and humans by restoring ecological infrastructure.
‘We need healthy ecosystems for our survival, and to help to fight climate change. This plot that we are busy with will support many different life forms, butterflies, reptiles, birds, even bokkies. By increasing the plant species we increase the interactions between different life forms, and strengthen the ecosystem.'
In July, a planned mass planting by school learners was cancelled due to Covid restrictions. However, a small group of Forum volunteers added a further 1700 plants to the site. These include Erica turgida, an extinct-in-the wild Erica. This plant only have occurred between Princess Vlei and Kenilworth Race Course, before it went extinct in the wild in the seventies. Lansdowne is overseeing the biggest reintroduction of this plant into the wild, in partnership with the Friends of the Rondebosch Common and the Princess Vlei Forum.
In the seasonal pond, we have successfully restored a miniature form of Waterblommetjie (Aponogeton angustifolius) which was growing in a similar pond in Ottery that is now completely choked by Port Jackson. Restoring existing conservation areas and public open spaces helps consolidate biodiversity in an urban ecosystem where we are loosing more habitat than we are conserving and restoring.
Other threatened species reintroduced include: Protea scolymocephala, Leucadendron levisanus, Serruria foeniculacea, Steirodiscus tagetes and Podalyria sericea. In future we will add more sensitive species once there is more cover.
Tracy Daniels (Grade 8) said, ‘It is very nice planting because I like interacting with nature.’
Planting is benefits the environment, and is a healing and positive experience for the school learners, helping to connect them to nature and the earth. Like the other restoration sites on the Eastern Shore, this will provide a rich outdoor classroom to teach learners about biodiversity and fynbos ecology. We are excited to see these species once more thriving at Princess Vlei.
Posts by Bridget Pitt unless stated otherwise.