GASPP (Grootvadersbosch Aquatic Species Protection Project) is a one-week survey, focusing on freshwater fish and macro invertebrate monitoring. During this week, our team works works with Cape Nature to better understand our river systems. It is also a fun week where we socialize with leading freshwater scientists.
Fresh water is crucial for most life on earth. According to Vorosmarty.et al (2005) the current water withdrawal per year globally is approximately 3 600 cubic kilometres. Four out of every five people who live downstream of rivers are supplied by renewable freshwater services (Vorosmarty.,et al 2005).
The GASPP project started in 2017 and is funded by the Table Mountain Fund. During the week survey, SASS (South African scoring system) is conducted on numerous river sites. In addition, nets are placed to record freshwater fish. We use the time to obtain useful Information on fish and macro invertebrates and explore several river sites in the conservancy.
SASS (South African scoring system)
SASS is used as a method to determine the health of the river by assessing the biota (Dickens and Graham, 2002). Macroinvertebrates are the basis for doing this. The SASS is completed by Jeanne Gouws who is a Cape Nature freshwater ecologist. She visited several sites per day to do SASS. During the SASS survey, nets are placed strategically along rivers to capture macro invertebrates and note them down. Once captured, they are identified and noted on a scoring sheet. In terms of health and safety regulations, Jeanne always wears waders when going into the river and avoids water that is flowing too quickly.
SASS is based on the fact that macro invertebrates have different sensitivities to different levels of pollution. Some species are more sensitive than others. We also looked at the habitat availability of the macroinvertebrates.The more diversity in species you find, the higher the SASS score for that site. The more sub species of the same species you find, the higher the SASS score. For example, if you note more than one mayfly species, such as brushlegged mayflies as well as small minnow mayflies, the score will go up.
Jeanne collects samples from different habitats: including rocks or boulders, gravel, vegetation and sand. She samples for set time intervals. “You collect for a set time so that when someone else comes to the same site on the same day, they could easily compare the data as the same periods were used.” explained Jeanne. We noted a range of different macro invertebrates, including worms, stoneflies, damselflies, caddisflies (cased and caseless), dragonflies, mayflies, bugs and beetles, snails, crabs, and other larvae. What amazing diversity!
We also measured water quality. The velocity of the of the different streams was measured with a tool called the transparent Velocity Head Rod (TVHR) (WCR,2016). This tool is a transparent plastic board with a measuring ruler to estimate the flow velocity of the stream. Measurements of the width and dept of a particular stream needs to be measured and data can be used in a spreadsheet to calculate the area, discharge and velocity of the river.
The pH of the water was also important as well as other aspect and questions such as:
The two GVB Conservancy teams, with support from Cape Nature, placed nets in set sites in the rivers to note the presence and absence of freshwater fish.
Alien fish are the primary threat to indigenous fish. In some river systems, they can have an economic value in terms of angling and aquaculture, but the management thereof is important (Jordaan and Skelton,2001). Without correct management of the Alien fish, the fish might escape from these farms and take over other river systems. Alien fish invasions can cause harm and contribute to indigenous freshwater fish becoming endangered. Alien fish that we found included catfish and blue gill that usually feed on invertebrates and small fish. We found lots of tilapia in the river, especially in the upper Tradouw River. It is possible to control the spread of alien invasive species. We as the public can prevent the spread of Invasive fish species by familiarise ourselves with the relevant legislation and not releasing fish into the rivers and not stocking or transporting fish without a permit (Jordaan and Skelton.,2001).
The indigenous freshwater fish that were found included the Cape galaxia, which is a smaller fish. Its adult size is a maximum length of 75mm total length average length (Jordaan and Skelton, 2001). The Cape galaxia is usually widespread in the Cape floristic region and we found quite a lot in the river sites around the conservancy. We also found the Breede River redfin that usually grows up to 135mm in standard length (Jordaan and Skelton, 2001) and prefers rocky pools and is near threatened. The Tradouw redfin or Barrydale redfin is a redfin species that has an extremely small natural distribution range and is only found in the Tradouw river system and is critically endangered. Threats to the redfin fish include loss of habitat as well as predation by exotic fish.
The Cape kurper was also found in some sites. The Cape kurper is another fish that can survive in a large variety of habitats.
Eels are indigenous predators to redfin fish and the challenge is that they if they are trapped in the nets with the redfin fish, they will predate on the redfin. In order to avoid this, eel fences were placed in the nets which stops them getting into the nets and feeding on the fish. Eels are also fascinating creatures and they give an indication of a healthy, connected system as they show that the river is free flowing as eels breed in the ocean and move upstream.
Other small challenges we had was that some sites were tricky to get too and require longer walks, especially the Tradouw river sites.
The GASPP team visited Mullersrus primary school in Buffelsjags. Biodiversity was the topic and Dr Jordaan spoke to the class about pollution and protecting our rivers. She discussed how to take care of our rivers and why it is important to do so. She spoke specifically about freshwater fish. The class listened attentively and interacted nicely. After the talk, they were given an art assignment by Donovan Julius, a local Suurbraak artist. Donovan asked them to put their thinking down on paper or in art form. They later showed off their beautiful posters and ideas for the camera. They complied strictly to COVID 19 regulations and received sweets for good behaviour.
Klein Pikkewyne preschool also visited the conservancy with little toddlers of four and five years old. They were 38 little ones. Ricardo Januarie spoke to them about fish and forests. Donovan was there and hands on with art and they had to draw and make posters in groups. They got the chance to see fish and then took a short hike through the forest patch near our office and came back for lovely juice and a sweet.
As a conservation student, GASPP was a very fruitful and enlightening experience. I have new respect for conservation. It is not simple at all and there are so many aspects to consider. We had long days in the field and visited the most beautiful river sites, waterfalls, and weirs. I appreciated the experience, and I thoroughly enjoyed the interesting people.
Dickens, C.W. and Graham, P.M., 2002. The South African Scoring System (SASS) version 5 rapid
bioassessment method for rivers. African Journal of Aquatic Science, 27(1), pp.1-10.
Freshwater fishes of the Cape floristic region (Martine Jordaan and Paul Skelton.Cape Nature).,2001.
Matthews, S., 2018. Suite of tools help citizens take control of freshwater management. Water
Wheel, 17(5), pp.24-27.
Temple, J.L. (2004). The Musk Shrew (Suncus murinus), A Model Species for Studies of Nutritional
Regulation of reproduction
The Transparent Velocity Head Rod., WRC (Water Research Commission project 2016 No: K5\2350
Vörösmarty, C.J., Léveque, C., Revenga, C., Bos, R., Caudill, C., Chilton, J., Douglas, E.M.,
Meybeck, M., Prager, D., Balvanera, P. and Barker, S., 2005. Fresh water. Millennium
ecosystem assessment, 1, pp.165-207.
Rothmannia capensis (witklokke) is a small or medium tree occurring in the forest or on Rocky Hillsides in bushveld. The tree is of the family, Rubiaceae (the coffee family), states Van Wyk (2013).
“The reason I love this tree is because of its growth form and the way it grows very straight. The flowers are also beautiful, and the tree is very thick. I find its shade of green absolutely glorious” says Oom Twakkie. Oom Twakkie (Goliath Highburg) is our quality controller and our "go-to" person for species identification. He calls this tree katjiepiering or wild gardenia which are some of its common names. “The gorgeous flowers almost look like the ones from a granadilla bush” adds Ricardo, our project manager.
Rothmannia capensis is usually distributed from Limpopo in the North to the Western Cape. It is found in forest, kloofs and on rocky edges from sea level up to about 1600 m. The flowers are white with maroon strips inside the throat of the corolla tube, fading to cream with green fruit that is about 70 mm in diameter (Van Wyk., 2013). The flowers have a strong scent and are extremely attractive to the eye.
The plant is called omkhulu in the Zulu tradition (Kelmanson et.al, 2000).The juice from it can be rubbed on burns and wounds to help them heal. Interestingly, the wounded parts of burns can be held in the smoke of burning roots. Baboons eat the green, ripe, fruits from the trees, while bushbuck and bush pigs eat the fruit that falls off the trees. The tree also attracts birds, and it acts as a nice garden tree. The wood of the tree is hard and strong and suitable for making implementing instrument handles (Sanbi and Van Wyk .2013). The wood can also be used to make strong spoons for cooking and porridge sticks and the dry wood is used for fire.
The tree grows well in light shade or full sun and is simple to grow from the seed. It grows in loamy soil. You can take out the seed from the brown fruit and spread them in a mix of 3 parts river sand to 1 part compost. Keep the seed mix moist until germination, which is generally 14 days.
There are several Rothmania species but when I see them, I am always hoping to see this specific one in the indigenous forest. According to Oom Twakkie, the last time he saw it was in February, but he is hoping to see it again soon. He smiles when he says that the wild gardenia tree is found quite commonly in the conservancy forests. As a newcomer to the area, I have not yet had a chance to see this lovely tree but I’m now on a hunt to see Oom Twakkie’s favourite tree in our special forest.
What’s your favourite indigenous tree? Leave a comment below and share your favourite tree and why.
Kelmanson, J.E., Jäger, A.K. and van Staden, J., 2000. Zulu medicinal
plants with antibacterial activity. Journal of
Ethnopharmacology, 69(3), pp.241-246.
Van Wyk, B., 2013. Field guide to trees of southern Africa. Penguin
Random House South Africa.
Participants of the working for water programme, which focuses on the clearing of alien vegetation, completed first aid level 1 as well as health and safety training last week. The training was facilitated by Verity Arends from Coalition Training and Skills Development. The trainig involved 12 participants for both first aid as well as health and safety and both courses were set out over two days and included practical and theory and were held at the new Shed at Strawberry Hill Farm.
The sessions started at 8am in the morning and ended at 4pm in the afternoon, including a lunch break. The participants strongly engaged in the practical aspects, where they had to perform CPR on dolls, and practice using the stretcher and wearing protective clothing, such as gloves. The outcomes that the learners needed to be able to perform after this training, included understanding emergency situations and treating injuries in the workplace and demonstrating knowledge of hazards, safety and emergency procedures in forestry operations and explaining preventative measures in the workplace.
The enthusiasm of the learners was high throughout the first aid as well as health and safety. They enjoyed listening to everyone’s stories and experiences in the workplace as they are not from the same teams and they hardly knew each other but could speak about common challenges in the workplace. They were able to give each other possible solutions and discuss what works for certain teams and what doesn’t.
As the student attending the training, I was encouraged by the stories told and how people spoke from the heart. For example, there was someone who had recently had a heart transplant and was still working and there was someone who had injured his hand with a chainsaw, while working elsewhere.
The teams were aware of the hazards for the people on the ground. Going back into the field as safety representatives or first aiders, they knew they had a responsibility towards the team, not only to be available for whenever an incident occurs, but also to inform and educate their team members so everyone is safe. In addition to all that was learnt, it was lovely to get to know the people in the teams. To hear what they face in the workplace, to hear them ask questions, engage and want to educate and better themselves and to develop their skills.
Maytenus acuminate occurs from the Zambezi River to the Western Cape. It is wide spread in the our conservancy with many young trees in our nursery. The name acuminate refers to the tapering point of the leaves. You can plant this tree in full sunlight or light shade. If you want to plant this tree from seed, collect the seeds when the capsules when they are splitting and revealing the orange fruit. You can remove the soft aril by washing the fruit in clean water. The remaining seed is small and should, preferably, be sown when fresh and during the warm summer months when the plant is in active growth. You can use well rotten compost to ensure good growth. The species can also be propagated from cuttings but take the cutting in the spring.
"This is my favourite tree as it’s a beautiful garden plant and has lovely, reddish brown bark." says Zaniel. "When I came for my interview at the gvb office, this was the first tree that Oom Twakkie (Goliath Highburg) showed me. It caught my attention. I was fascinated by the elastic threads on the broken leaf and I now instantly know what tree it is. Crazy interesting."
Van Wyk, B., 2013. Field guide to trees of southern Africa. Penguin Random House South Africa.
Last week, some team members went to the mountains above Suurbraak to apply a biocontrol agent to invasive hakea trees. Silky hakea (Hakea sericea) is an evergreen tree with very prickly leaves. It invades mountain fynbos as well as coastal grassland. A native of Australian, it was once cultivated for dune cultivation and hedging. Hakea trees usually grow fast and produce a lot of seeds. They form large stands and seeds can be transported by the wind for long distances, and new infestation develop quickly in neighbouring valleys.
There are large infestations in the coastal mountains of the Cape floral region in the Western Cape. Many infestations occur in remote or inaccessible areas and so invasions can become extensive before they are noticed. A further challenge is that fire increases the prevelance of the population. For remote mountainous areas, bio control is most effective. Regular follow up is also always essential to keep the aliens in check.
Biocontrol makes use of a plant's naturally occurring enemies to reduce the invasive impact of a species. There are many different bio control agents that can control hakea but we used an indigenous fungus that has successfully been used to control hakea. The biocontrol was applied to the adult trees by spraying it on to an exposed wound which was made with a simple, custom-made tool (a plank with exposed nails).
We came across quite a few hakea trees in the Suurbraak mountains and we needed a few days work to apply the agent effectively. The fungus will spread naturally, especially if there is a lot of rain following its application. Over a few years, fungus will slowly kill the trees."You will see how beautiful the fynbos will come out, once all the aliens have been cleared" says oom Twakkie (Goliath Highburg, Guality Controller for the Conservancy). We cant wait to start seeing the results!
See the following link for more information on biocontrol options.
Gordon, A.J. and Fourie, A., 2011. Biological control of Hakea sericea Schrad. & JC Wendl. and Hakea gibbosa (Sm.) Cav.(Proteaceae) in South Africa. African Entomology, 19(2), pp.303-314.
This week, in our nursery we reported Kiggelaria Africana (wild peach). Kiggelaria Africana is a medium sized tree and occurs in the forest wooded riverine or on rocky outcrops and grassland. The wild peach is a well-known tree on the conservancy and Goliaith Highburg (Oom Twakkie) usually plants it successfully from seed. It grows very well in the bags he has in the nursery.
On the conservancy, Oom Twakkie obtains seeds and plants them in pots or bags with compost with the sprayers to water them in the nursery. The fruit is round, yellowish green and covered with hairs. The seeds are black, with a bright red orange covering and yellowish green flowers. An interesting fact is that bats are the main pollinators of this tree. It thrives on the edges of forests and is often encountered in kloofs and rocky outcrops of grass-covered mountain slopes. It is found between moist slopes above the Riversdale coastal plain and areas like Zuurberg that experience mostly summer rainfall.
''It's one of my favorite trees" says Aileen Anderson, the manager of our conservancy. And indeed the wildpeach tree that stands on her deck is magnificent, with round balls and bright orange seeds inside. The tree sits above the best celphone reception for Aileen's office so this wise tree has overheard many interesting conservancy-related conversations. The birds also love it and so Aileen's deck is always filled with busy birds.
This beautiful tree is named after Franz Kiggelaer and the Latin word africana means "comes from Africa".The hardish pink-brown wood can be used for timber (furniture). It was also once used for the wagon spokes of ox wagon wheels. Some people believe that touching this tree will attract lightning. In South Sotho culture, medicince is made from it to protect kraals. The fruit is also toxic and used for traditional medicine such as skin problems. An extract of the bark can be used for treating sores and wounds and the seeds were eaten during famine. What a useful tree!
Oom Twakkie says that you just plant the seeds into your compost soil and they grow. Young trees grow fast as observed in the nursery and they flower from about two years old. It forms a good windbreak for your property. When you plant the trees, Omm Twakkie recommends using moderate amount of water and a place in the sun. Another tip is to add your compost to the soil when planting and the tree grows in both winter as well as summer rainfall. This tree attracts birds and butterflies .This lovely pioneer plant will also feed your honeybees. Wow...What an amazing tree!
We are lucky to have this species here on our conservancy.
Van Wyk, B., 2013. Field guide to trees of southern Africa. Penguin Random House South Africa.
In early February, 14 beneficiaries, climbed the Langeberg mountain on the west side of the Grootvadersbosch Conservancy to do alien clearing. They were divided into two separate teams, called the Pine and Hakea Teams. The initiative is funded by landowners and the Department of Environmental Affairs Forestry and Fisheries, under the Natural Resource Management (NRM) programme.
The teams were assigned equipment, which included sleeping bags and tents. The aim of their assignment was to remove the alien invasive trees (mainly hakea, pine and some black wattle) in a specific block, reflected in their contracts. The teams walked approximately 17km up the mountain, with an elevation gain of 480m to an altitude of 1145m. The first two blocks, covered 1157 hectares. The work was made more strenuous because they had to manoeuvre around with their overnight camping equipment. The participants have all received training to prepare them for the work.
The teams were camping for 4 nights in the mountains. They go up on a Mondays and descend on Fridays. The first two contracts stretch over 3 weeks in which they have to go up and camp in the mountains each week. Overall, the participants were eager to sleep out and tackle this important work.
Vernon Wessels and Wayne Fielies are the two contractors, each with the responsibility to guide their teams. Each team has the contractor to give overall instructions for the contract, as well as a supervisor in the field to look after the team. One of challenges that the team faced was that it was hot, other challenges included the danger of the terrain and the equipment that they must carry. For safety, they had to be able to communicate daily with the office to ensure that they remained safe in the field. Covid 19 regulations and protocols is also a challenge because of social distancing, as the teams needed to sleep in tents in the mountains. Regardless of the challenges, the two teams was very brave and committed to reach the top of the mountain and neither the weather nor anything else could stop them. The teams will complete the 2 contracts within 3 weeks and will be working on other contracts until the end of March.
''This is a great experience for me" said one of the team members when they needed to go back into the mountains. Overall, it seems that the teams are well organized and are motivated to complete this important work to protect our precious mountain environments.
Our conservation student, Emma Prain, has compiled an impressive species list that is invaluable to understanding and documenting the range of species in our area. This list is a work in progress and we welcome feedback and comment on it. Thank you, Emma, for all the hard work.
We are aware that species lists can be misused so we would like this to be mainly available to our landowners who have access to the password. However, if you are a local expert or interested visitor and would like access to the list to give feedback or use while you are in the area, please drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your contact details and reason why you would like access and someone will get back to you.
Hidden in our indigenous forest is a recently discovered species of dwarf chameleon. At this very moment Prof. Krystal Tolley, a Research Leader at the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), is working hard to name this very elusive reptile.
In the 1980s an employee from CapeNature’s scientific services found two chameleons in the Grootvadersbosch forest, they were collected and preserved at the South African Museum. After this initial sighting, no chameleons were spotted again. Previously scientists thought that the population in the Grootvadersbosch forest may be an isolated population of Knysna dwarf chameleons (Bradypodion damaranum), as they suspect that millions of years ago the Grootvadersbosch forest was connected to the Knysna forest.
In around 2003, Krystal received a phone call from the manager of the Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve informing her that they had found a dead chameleon. Krystal traveled straight here to collect it. DNA sequencing on this specimen established that the species in our forest is a separate species to the Knysna Dwarf chameleon.
Krystal has worked hard trying to describe and name the Grootvadersbosch chameleon. A big issue she has encountered is not finding enough specimens. The dead specimen collected in 2003 was partly decomposed making it difficult to use. They also had no morphological data on the species. She explained that you need to have several specimens to describe a species, so you can deduct a baseline of the range of features that represent the species. You also need a range of data such as measurements, photos and back in the day, drawings.
She continued visiting the forest every year 3 years to try and locate the chameleons, with no luck. Finally, two years ago Alouise and Keir Lynch from Bionerds collected samples for her. The extra samples showed for sure that our species is a separate species to the Knysna dwarf chameleon.
In October, we spent the week helping her find chameleons. We collected data from their habitat and ran non invasive experiments. Currently she has a big team working to understand the adaptations of different species of dwarf chameleons in fynbos and forest biomes. The team has deduced that the fynbos biome has very thin vertical perches, with an average perch size of around 1mm in circumference. In forests, the perches are either horizontal or vertical and are much wider, ranging between 3mm and 4mm. The chameleons have adapted to walk on these perches, with forest chameleons potentially having bigger hands, their appendages might be different lengths or their gaits differ. To understand this, we carefully made the chameleons run across vertical and horizontal dowel rods of differing thickness. Her team of scientists are interested in their adaptions and have many unanswered questions that they are still investigating. Our chameleons were not initially going to be included in the study because she feared she would not find enough of them. However, since we did find some during her last visit, she decided to incorporate them into the study.
Her team has found that the closest relative to the Knysna dwarf chameleon is a species of undescribed dwarf chameleon that they have nicknamed the Beardless dwarf chameleon, found in the fynbos biome adjacent to the Knysna forest. According to Krystal, the Grootvadersbosch chameleon belongs to the same group as the Knysna dwarf chameleon, though through a distant relation.
Hopefully our chameleon will soon have its own official name!
Jonathan Barry, son of the late Henri Barry, was born in Swellendam and grew up on Lismore farm in the Grootvadersbosch Valley. He went to school in Swellendam and then completed 5 years of degrees and diplomas in the Information Technology field. He moved to England for work and then returned to Cape Town. In 2017, he got married and moved back to Lismore farm. Jonathan and Henri had been growing the business ever since.
Jonathan Barry was recently selected to be on the board of directors for the Sentraal-Suid Co-operative (SSK). Jonathan was honoured to have been nominated and then chosen for a position. He was one of four nominees that were competing for three available seats on the board of directors. Members of the SSK were given the chance to vote on a poll that was open for 48hrs. Jonathan feels very honoured to have been selected for this position, he explained that the other nominees were amazing people, leaders and very capable in their work. He feels that he is a part of the farming community. He says he now must ensure that he does not let SSK down. He hopes to continue the great work that the board has done. The Grootvadersbosch Conservancy congratulates him and is very proud to have a member in such a prestigious position!
Jonathan and Henri worked together to create a conservation conscious farm. Clearing aliens is a task that is especially important, and they have worked hard to eliminate them. The farm is 2600 hectares and 1100 hectares of that is mountainous area. Their large area of natural territory has encouraged their alien clearing efforts. As with many members, the biggest frustration is the speed at which clearing takes place, due to government red tape, but this has not hindered his attempts at clearing. Jonathan especially wants people to understand that alien plants affect the entire community. More aliens mean less water for our homes. He wants everyone to understand this and try their best to eliminate them.
In the last 10 years, the farm has tried to reduce fertilizers and chemicals. They have done this successfully and have reduced their Glyphosate load by 50%, which is quite incredible. They also purchase soil microorganisms for their fields to increase the soil’s health. He explained that to be truly organic or completely bio-friendly would be impossible, there are too many people that need to be fed and farms would not be able to keep up with the demand. They have a no-till approach to minimise disturbance on the soil. He explained that if you keep the soil healthy, it will do what you need it to do. He described the issue in communication between the outside world and farmers. Jonathan has the feeling that the outside world does not understand what is going on in agriculture and are often too quick to judge.
Jonathan stated that a lot of what they do on the farm is because of his father, Henri Barry. He explained that Henri had a massive passion for the environment and the people in the valley. Henri made sure that his business was transparent so that his children could learn and understand how the farm operated, they were given great responsibly. When Henri passed away, the farm continued the same, nothing really changed because he had involved them so much in its day-to-day running.
Finally, he explained that the Grootvadersbosch Conservancy is a role model conservancy, and the work it does is amazing. John, Henri, and everyone else who pioneered it, worked hard to make it what it is today.
GVB Conservancy Staff