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Planting seeds for a water-secure future

A community-based catchment clearance and replanting project in the Riviersonderend area is making a difference in people's lives.

Recent figures show that the total estimate of national water lost to alien invasive plants equals 1.4 trillion litres – the equivalent to the holding capacity of three Theewaterskloof dams – which makes a community-based catchment clearance and replanting project in the Riviersonderend area all the more relevant.

It’s a simple matter of out with the bad and in with the good for Juliana November from Bereaville near Genadendal in the Overberg region of the Western Cape.

November spends her days planting and re-planting indigenous species at a local nursery. For her it’s a labour of love and a means to ensure that her community can enjoy the benefits of a healthy river system.

She is one of 11 people working as a restoration crew at the Genadendal Community Nursery. They harvest indigenous plants found within the Riversonderend catchment, in the Western Cape, including the Meulrivier and the Sonderend River.

“I really enjoy this, because I have a love for nature,” says November who has been working in this part of the nursery for the past three years. Her job entails collecting the seeds and cuttings of indigenous plants which are taken to the Genadendal nursery for propagation. When the seedlings begin to sprout and are strong enough for relocation, November and the team start replanting.

She started out in the vegetable garden area of the nursery where vegetables are grown for the benefit of local residents and primary schools which is also a means of helping residents become more self-sufficient.

“We give them vegetables for free but we also prepare seedlings so that they can grow their own,” she explains.

Out with the bad

WWF South Africa’s Water Balance Programme team initiated invasive alien clearing in the Riviersonderend catchment in 2014. The area has a huge palmiet wetland, much of which is often choked with alien species such as black wattle and blackwood.

Palmiet is an indigenous “super plant”, also referred to as “wetland glue” that plays a vital role in South Africa’s rivers by slowing down water velocity of a river that is in flood, acting as a water filter, and reducing soil and debris being washed down the river to the sea. Palmiet is endemic to the Western and Eastern Cape and in small pockets in KZN.

Invasive plants such as black wattle, blue gums and blackwood are quick to multiply and grow, and extremely water thirsty. Recent figures show that the total estimate of national water lost to alien invasive plants equals 1.4 trillion litres – the equivalent of three Theewaterskloof dams.

Before the clearing was initiated much of the Riversonderend catchment was “wall-to-wall with black wattle” says Rodney February, implementation manager for the programme.

To date, 202 ha, that’s roughly 200 international rugby fields, of mostly privately owned and some state-owned land, has been cleared in the top end of Riviersonderend from the Vyeboom Wetland down to where a tributary, the Meulrivier, enters the Riviersonderend.

WWF has played a key role in bringing together relevant partners – community members, water sector stakeholders, government and corporate partners – in initiating clearing and active restoration where necessary. The indigenous vegetation is propagated in a nursery reconstructed for this purpose.

In with the good

Restoration is key to the returning of functionality to rivers and includes the prevention of soil erosion.

Through a workshop that WWF had been involved in organising, November and her team received training around fynbos propagation. These skills assisted her and her peers in carrying out the restoration operations along the river.

Lumka Madolo, also with WWF-SA’s Water Balance Programme, says this training is essential in helping residents see the “bigger picture” of the restoration process.

“When they understood why we do the restoration and the benefits to their community, and on a larger scale the country’s long-term water supply, they become proud of their work and take this knowledge home to their families and their communities,” says Madolo.

November believes that if more people knew about the work they were doing at the nursery, people’s attitudes about the value of nature, and healthy rivers, might change.

“I feel like it’s a good way to educate or teach people about the benefits of looking after your local environment. Because the more people we can educate the more people will be interested to make a difference in nature,” says November.

This was first published in the Sunday Argus on 1 October 2017. 

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