Our Grootvadersbosch Dwarf Chameleon records are accumulating!
Krystal Tolley visited our valley during this year's Silver Mountain Music Festival, where she gave a fascinating talk about the chameleon species and talked more about her book (link below if you want to check it out!). She was also here to do some further surveys and recordings of her chameleon findings and took beautiful photographs of the extraordinary petite species.
The data results indicate that Dr. Tolley found male and female individuals as well as juveniles, thus we can assume that their population is steadily growing thus we need to continue in protecting our Afromontane Forest region here in the valley!
All images were taken by Krystal Tolley.
If you want to support her and buy her Chameleon book then please visit here.
Tolley, K.A. 2022. Bradypodion venustum. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2022. Available at: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/214766876/214766885
Earlier this year the Conservancy held its annual AGM where we celebrated an important achievement as an organisation - our FIRST internationally funded project!
We were privileged to have Trevor DeRuisé with us from Lost Boy wines who’s gorgeous “wines from the wild” were a perfect accompaniment to our important AGM.
At the AGM we introduced our members to our exciting new restoration project, funded by the INTERNATIONAL CLIMATE INITIATIVE GRANT (IKI), also known as the IKI Small Grants Programme. The IKI Grant is implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and focuses on climate change mitigation projects and on biodiversity and forest conservation.
The conservancy has always focused on alien clearing projects to aid the natural environment and create employment in the surrounding communities. We will continue to do this work but, through the IKI Grant, we now have an opportunity to take this work a step further. In most cases, on-going alien clearing is the most cost-effective approach to restoration. However, in some cases, the removal of invasives can result in open and bare ground, with little to no regrowth of plant species. This will increase the risk of erosion and the regrowth of aliens. This often occurs in highly disturbed areas that do not have natural seedbanks or where the seedbank might be from garden plants that may not always be ideal to re-establish in cleared areas. In these conditions, the natural environment struggles to adequately restore itself and would take twice as long. In these cases, nature benefits from a helping hand or a ‘hup-stoot’, as our new restoration manager, Corné Brink puts it. This project will allow us to combine alien clearing with forest restoration activities in specific areas.
This project is a 2-year contract and will focus on establishing the nursery facilities for restoration, developing the skills needed and promoting restoration activities. We have selected two demonstrate sites where we can test approaches, develop standards, and train our alien clearing teams in restoration techniques. The project has a large emphasis on capacity building, and job creation in rural communities.
For this project, we will need a large number of indigenous plant species, ranging from ground covers, shrubs, and trees. This is only possible by establishing our own propagation facility where we can learn how to propagate the wide array of plants that represent the diversity of the Grootvadersbosch flora.
To make this project a success, we will work closely with landowners to responsibly harvest plant material so that our sites closely match the local genetic plant material. For each of the restoration sites, we have selected a reference site which helps to guide what plants should be represented on the restoration sites.
In the long term, the nursery may eventually become a source of revenue for the conservancy so that we can continue to sustain our alien clearing activities that are still reliant on a government funding. Much like in nature where diversity is crucial for sustainability, diversity of funding sources is also important to secure the future of the conservancy.
This project will allow the conservancy to build capacity, diversify income sources, and increase the skillsets of the local communities surrounding the Grootvadersbosch Conservancy. This will be done by employing more workers and providing training in ecology, restoration activities, and methods of propagation of indigenous species. Through this project, we are also engaging with other restoration professionals to build our collective understanding of how we can improve the effectiveness of restoration projects in the Western Cape as a whole.
The IKI project will be implemented by Corné Brink who joins us from the Garden Route Botanical Gardens in George.
Corné has a background in conservation, guiding and endangered species rehabilitation. Her experiential knowledge of successional ecology and the different techniques and styles of ecosystem restoration, along with her style of implementing holistic practices through scientific methods will assist in pioneering a standard for ecosystem restoration in Afromontane forest, fynbos and renosterveld in the region. She will be assisted by Goliath (Twakkie) Highburg and Jessi Venter.
Oom Twakkie has incredible knowledge of the Grootvadersbosch flora region and has a natural ability to grow anything put in front of him. He has incredible local knowledge to share with the restoration team and we would be lost without his wisdom and work ethic.
Jessi is our Nature Conservation student intern, who will soon be graduating, but staying on as a vital part of our team. She has always had a passion for conserving nature and she is extremely excited to finally live out this passion with our new Restoration Project. She is also our Social Media Content Creator and combines her love of photography with incredibly stories from the many GVB expeditions.
Now that Oom Twakkie is more involved in the restoration project, Ricardo (our alien clearing manager) needs more assistance with the ever growing alien clearing projects. This has allowed us to bring in Mzomhle Mtshintshi who has a background in forestry and is taking on the Quality Controller role (with the odd trip to the river for fish monitoring!).
We are excited about the many new opportunities that this project will bring to the conservancy and to the area as a whole. Thank you for your support
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
🌼 White Yogurt Tubs
🌼 Dark yogurt Tubs
🌼 5l Ice Cream Tubs
🌼 Cardboard boxes
would be greatly appreciated!
And any donations of indigenous plants and equipment will also be appreciated!
Thank you to everyone's continuous support for our work
It was with great pleasure that the Grootvadersbosch Conservancy got the opportunity to collaborate with the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) in their mission to collect and conserve seeds from our region to preserve them for a lifetime in the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSBP).
The MSBP is an international program where the main goal is to collect and conserve seeds on a global scale, with over 80 countries involved, including South Africa. The MSBP banks the collected seeds at the Seed Conservation Department at the Royal Botanic Gardens (Kew) where the seeds are dried and kept in freezers under -20°C. These conditions make it possible for the seeds to stay viable for hundreds of years and be available to use when necessary.
The aim of the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership is to collect all plant species for ex-situ conservation and storage in the long term. Priority is given to the protection of threatened plant species to reduce the possibility of total extinction.
Field trips and pre-preparations are vital in planning and implementing the collecting of specimens and seeds, targeted species should be determined beforehand, and the team should also be prepared to collect specimens that were not on the targeted list. This will ensure an effective and successful field trip.
There are multiple collection techniques that can be used when collecting:
On the 6th of June, the Grootvadersbosch Conservancy team joined SANBI for the collection of specimens and seeds of the outstanding species that needed to be collected. The SANBI project is led by Naomi Mdayi and Sibahle Gumede with Yandisa Ndzeku (photographer and collector), Michael Ndovu (photographer and collector), Sihle Mvunyiswa (collector), and Sphephelo Kheswa (collector). They were joined by Goliath Highburg, Jessi Venter, Bella Liebenberg, Rachel Jacobz, and Marius Piek from the Conservancy to assist with local knowledge.
We started our journey in the Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve Forest area where most of the forest-targeted species can be found.
Our journey did not go on too long before we spotted the first plant species to collect for the day. The team identified the species together (with the help of reliable identification elements) to ensure that it was the correct species. Naomi and Sibahle filled in the required data in the standard MSBP data sheet that records all the details of the species and its surrounding environment – soil characteristics, geology, slope aspect, and altitude. These are recorded for future restoration implications. It is a time-consuming process but essential to complete onsite to avoid any details being missed. Yandisa Ndzeku, Michael Ndovu, Sihle Mvunyiswa, and Sphephelo Kheswa oversaw the collection of two herbarium specimens for each species collected and of viable seeds where possible, using the previously mentioned collecting techniques. The collected specimens were temporarily put into plant specimen collecting bags and were later pressed in herbarium plant drying pressers.
These steps were followed throughout the day’s journey, with the Grootvadersbosch Conservancy team assisting in the identification of plant species and the carrying of specimens.
Specimens collected were as follows:
Anemone vesicatoria – Blisterleaf – Brandblaar
Scolopia mundii – Red pear - Rooipeer
Podocarpus latifolius – Real yellowwood – Opregte geelhout
Canthium inerme – Common turkey-berry – Gewone bokdrol
Ilex mitis – African holly - Waterboom
Chionanthus foveolatus – Pock ironwood – Pokysterhout
Phylica pinea – Pine Hardleaf
Elegia racemosa – Restionaceae
After collection and identification, the specimens are prepared for the herbarium. The process involves carefully placing the plants in a press with layers of press paper, to absorb any excess moisture from the species. This is important to make it a perfect pressed herbarium specimen. Once dried, it will be removed from the press, labelled with other associated data of the collection, and submitted to an Herbaria to confirm that all the data are correct before it is shipped to the MSBP and Royal Botanical Gardens.
Thank you to the Grootvadersbosch Conservancy team. Their contributions were so instrumental in helping us to achieve our goal. They were willing to go above and beyond to ensure the smooth execution of the project. We were thoroughly impressed with their professionalism, dedication, and expertise throughout the entire process. It was a great pleasure working with them, and we look forward to collaborating again in the future.” from Sphephelo Kheswa, SANBI.
SANBI, 2023. MILLENIUM SEED BANK. Available at: https://www.sanbi.org/biodiversity/foundations/biosystematics-collections/millennium-seed-bank/ [Accessed on 5 July 2023]
WHAT AUTHORISATIONS ARE NEEDED FOR COMMON FARM ACTIVITIES
When does a landowner need an authorisation and when is it not needed?
Landowners that have multiple activities going on at once and will sometimes wonder ‘Do I need authorisation in order to do this activity or not?’
Main activities that need environmental authorization include – water-related activities – infilling or excavating – electrical activities – general infrastructure and ploughing of virgin soil.
See below for summary guidelines on common farming activities and which activities might trigger environmental authorization procedures.
Join us for the annual SILVER MOUNTAIN MUSIC FESTIVAL: 15 to 18 June
This year’s festival focuses on percussion music and the natural Rhythm of life. We will be joined by well-known musicians and speakers, who will connect us to nature in unique ways. Join us for a weekend of music and nature in the Grootvadersbosch Valley.
Musicians include the well-known classical marimbist - Magdalena de Vries - professional percussionist - Bryan Clarke - the energetic Empower Drumming Academy - the Ancient Voices, two young musicians: cellist - Ashlin Grobbelaar and violinist - Pieter Joubert – and finally – Richard Cock who will host the annual Shed concert that connects all the events together.
This year the festival is partnering with Struik Nature to bring renowned speakers together, who will take us on a journey through nature and help us discover new and old species.
The full programme is available here
The following events are linked to the ongoing work of conservation in the Grootvadersbosch area.
Friday June 16 10am: Music, Mindfulness and MCC in a forest, Strawberry Hill Farm
Join us in the middle of the forest for a unique musical experience. Start the day with a glass of Lords MCC and then be guided into the trees by Prof Coert Geldenhuys, one of South Africa’s leading forest ecologist. Deep in the forest, you will focus your thoughts on your natural surroundings, while listening to the rhythm of your heartbeat. This will be a special exercise in relaxation and de-stressing….all in the heart of the Grootvadersbosch forest with Magdalena de Vries (marimba), Bridget Rennie-Salonen & Renée van den Berg (wellbeing facilitators), joined by Wessel van den Berg (didgeridoo).
Friday June 16 3h00PM: Conservation and Agriculture in Harmony. Voorstekop Farm, Heidelberg
At the Voorstekop Farm, we are joined by the Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust who will share their knowledge on how conservation and agriculture have evolved – and still evolving – to live in harmony. Listen to leading ecologist, Dr Odette Curtis, and commercial farmer, Dirk van Papendorp to explain the importance of protecting the critically endangered renosterveld. The afternoon includes a farm tea.
SATURDAY June 17 10h30AM: Bringing New Species to Life, Joseph Barry Distillery, Barrydale
In partnership with Struik Nature , we will be hosting a series of talks by leading naturalists. They will tell amazing stories of African species found in our country and in our hidden valley, including the: Grootvadersbosch Chameleon, Coelacanths and the Barrydale Redfin. This series of talks includes Prof Mike Bruton who focuses on fish the conservation of nocturnal coelacanths, said to come from the dinosaur eras. Prof Krystal Tolley, will discuss chameleons and the species found only in the Grootvadersbosch Forest. Finally, Johan Marais - world-known snake conservationist and CEO of the South African Snakebite Institute –will enlighten us on these beautiful and intriguing reptiles.
SUNDAY June 18 10h00AM: A naturalist in swellendam, Bokmakiri Books, Swellendam
Join us for a Clock Peaks cup-of-coffee, where naturalist - Roger Stewart – will take us back to the 18th century and will talk about William Burchell’s journey across Africa. This journey will be illustrated through ‘Burchell’s African Odyssey book’ which reveals the narrative and natural history discoveries of his unpublished return journey (1812-1815) from the south-eastern Kalahari to Cape Town via the mouth of the Great Fish River. On this journey he amassed an astonishing 63 000 specimens of plants, bulbs, insects, reptiles and mammals. His talk will include Burchell’s explorations in the greater Swellendam area.
All the natural history guides will be available for sale at Bokmakiri Books, Swellendam
SATURDAY June 17 3h30pm: curated art exhibition, strawberry hill farm
This year our programme includes a special curated art exhibition that will be part of the Richard Cøck and Friends Shed Concert on the 17th June 2023. The exhibition is inspired by water creatures and reptiles and is curated by the Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve. Artists will include Ferdo Voigt, Niki Saunders, Nakita Joubert, Nadine Hansen and Merryn Carver. A portion of all art sales will be donated to support the Grootvadersbosch Conservancy and the Empower Drumming Academy.
The Grootvadersbosch Conservancy has worked on the removal of Pereskia aculeata over the past few years and knows how problematic an alien invader it is. The conservancy used to burn off every stem of the plant which was quite an expensive process. The Grootvadersbosch Conservancy has been working with the Swellendam municipality to manage alien invasives and noticed an invasion in the centre of town. We urgently required an easier way of eradicating the pesky Pereskia, so we contacted Dr. Iain Paterson to aid us with some biocontrol. He posted the biocontrol to us where we could release it at two sites – the first site is at a Swellendam municipality near the mall and the second site is at the Buffeljags Dam.
what is pereskia?
Pereskia aculeata originates from Brazil in South America and thus it has no natural predators in South Africa. It is a creeper plant that can easily outcompete and overgrow indigenous plants especially in forest and plantation areas, leaving them with no access to sunlight, natural pollinators, and water (Invasives SA, 2014). The spread of Pereskia aculeata is problematic as the areas with the infestation will become degraded and will have little growth of indigenous plant diversity over time.
what is biocontrol?
Biological control (Biocontrol) is the use of a natural enemy, usually an insect or pathogen, to control and/or eradicate an alien invasive plant species (ARC, 2014). Biocontrol is an alternative method to control and eradicate alien invasive plant species and is very effective and often used in combination with mechanical control
Luckily for this Pereskia invasion, both biocontrol agents were delivered to us, Pereskia Flea Beetle (Phenrica guérini) and Pereskia Stem-wilter (Catorhintha schaffneri). We released both at the Swellendam municipality site and only the Pereskia Stem-wilter at the Buffelsjag Dam site. Both agents can only survive by feeding on Pereskia. The Pereskia Flea Beetle feeds on the leaves, forming big holes while leaving a trail of brown faeces. The Pereskia Stem-wilter feeds on the plant shoot tips, splitting them open and/or rotting them.
We are very grateful for the incredible scientists who work so hard in developing these agents and so we decided to interview Dr. Iain Paterson who shares his experience in developing a biocontrol agent for Pereskia aculeata.
how and when did you start working on biocontrol for Pereskia aculeata?
Dr. Paterson has always had a passion for nature, he loved plants and animals since childhood. Once he started university, he decided to study both Zoology and Botany. While studying, he discovered an interest in insects, he was fascinated by the idea of using insects as a biocontrol agent, consequently, he decided to pursue Entomology and he then did his Ph.D. on Pereskia aculeata.
What is the process for developing a biocontrol and what beetle species are used to combat the alien, invasive Pereskia aculeata?
Dr. Paterson explained that they experimented with potential Biocontrol insects, which are all indigenous to South America. Five insects were used in the experiment and only two were found successful as a biocontrol. It took him 2 years to prove that the Pereskia stem-wilter beetle (Catorhintha schaffneri) will only feed on Pereskia aculeata and not on any other indigenous plants of Africa.
Why is it so important to develop a successful biocontrol for Pereskia aculeata?
Pereskia aculeata is an alien-invasive vine plant species. Vine plants are almost impossible to remove successfully using chemical or mechanical methods without damaging the surrounding indigenous vegetation. Pereskia aculeata also has a nasty habit of resprouting where it has broken off and any present stem fractions will eventually develop into a new plant. Dr. Paterson once brought a Pereskia stem fraction from overseas within a clip file and, with no soil or water, the fraction grew leaves, displaying its remarkable survivability and durability.
Why does the Pereskia stem-wilter only feed and survive on Pereskia aculeata?
In general, insects are selective feeders, they always seek and select the plants with the most nutrients that their bodies can absorb. In their natural habitat, the Pereskia stem-wilter evolved by only feeding on Pereskia. Here in Africa none of our insects are familiar with Pereskia aculeata and will not feed on them. Without natural pests, Pereskia will outcompete our indigenous plant species and spread rapidly.
In what way can the public assist in reducing the spread of Pereskia aculeata?
The public is advised to learn how to identify Pereskia aculeata and not to plant and grow it within their gardens. In the past, Pereskia was used as a hedge plant in the garden because it grows so effortlessly. If the Pereskia aculeata is removed by hand, all the biomass that is removed and disposed of will resprout. Wherever it ends up, it will create a new infestation so it is advised to let the biomass dry out, or even better, spray it with herbicide and once it turns brown, it should be burned.
What should we, the conservancy and/or the public, keep in mind when using Pereskia biocontrol?
Dr. Paterson states that the Pereskia biocontrol will not immediately eradicate the whole alien plant, the beetles must first establish their population. Once established, the Pereskia infestation will slowly deteriorate over time as the beetles feed on the shoots and roots. This will decrease the spread of the plant and reduce the Pereskia infestation.
How can we obtain the biological control for Pereskia aculeata?
The biocontrol is funded by the Department of Fisheries, Forestry, and the Environment (DFFE) and is provided by the Centre for Biological Control (CBC) of Rhodes University.
The Grootvadersbosch Conservancy can also be contacted if Pereskia is observed so we can track its spread and the success of the agent in its control.
With the help of Dr. Paterson and the biocontrol agents, we are doing all we can to remove Pereskia aculeata!
We thank Dr. Paterson for his time and knowledge regarding Pereskia aculeata and the tremendous journey in creating a biocontrol agent!
The continuous effort of clearing mountain slopes of alien species is rewarding but challenging work. With the continuous effort of our mountain clearing teams and the support of the DFFE, LandCare, Gouritz Biosphere Cluster Reserve, and landowners, it will be possible for the conservancy to reach our end goal of controlling alien species in our precious mountain catchments.
THANK YOU TO OUR CLEARING TEAMS AND FUNDERS
Currently, the Grootvadersbosch Conservancy is part of a high mountain alien clearing project located in Langeberg Mountain, between Heidelberg and Swellendam. The Grootvadersbosch Conservancy covers over 30 000ha of private land which includes high mountain catchment areas. This project involves the clearing of alien species (mainly Hakea and Pine) in an estimated area of 6000ha, on the mountain slopes and their catchment areas.
These catchment areas are essential in sustaining river systems due to the high runoff and groundwater recharge capabilities.
The dominant vegetation type in Langeberg Mountain is mountain fynbos, a fire-driven ecosystem that must burn every 10 – 15 years. However, with alien invasions, fires become more frequent and intense. These intense fires do harm to the natural vegetation and wildlife. The project's goal is to control alien species within these catchment areas to improve groundwater recharge and catchment runoff and reduce the intense fire outbreaks that can threaten infrastructure and natural vegetation.
In 2020, the Grootvadersbosch Conservancy started working on a management plan to remove the alien species in the high mountain areas. The initial plan was developed in 2020 by our General Manager, Aileen Anderson. She did this by camping out in the mountains with countless hours of scouting and assessing the area’s infestations, prioritizing each area, and identifying access routes and suitable camping sites. From this information, a plan was developed with the help of photographs and drone footage to show the priority areas. This plan formed the basis of our ongoing High Mountain Project.
In order to execute this project, funding was needed, and partnerships were required. In 2021, funding was initially secured from landowners and the Department of Environment, Forestry, and Fisheries (DEFF). In later years, the Gouritz Biosphere Cluster Reserve and LandCare also provided additional funding for the high mountain project.
This project required the establishment of a high mountain clearing team. In order to work in these remote conditions, each member underwent training. These training courses included ‘Overnight wilderness camping’, ‘first-aid training, and ‘snake awareness and response’. 45 people underwent this training in September 2020 and again in July 2022.
The mountain team took on this project with creative enthusiasm. In order to be efficient, the team camps out for continuous days in the mountain. They are provided with camping equipment (that needs to be durable and lightweight) such as tents, backpacks, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, flashlights, and cooking stoves.
The first team was operational in February 2021, the team had to come to terms with clearing aliens at high altitudes and all the challenges that these types of projects come with. These include working in harsh weather conditions and being temporarily cut off from public communication. The team has a radio to communicate with the conservancy. Despite the difficulties, the mountain team never feared these challenges and they continuously appreciate the view that this work comes with (as shown here in a video).
This project includes initial inspections, internal inspections, and follow-up control. Initial inspections are done beforehand by the conservancy team to determine the workload, and days needed to camp out on the mountain slopes. Then, final inspections are done to observe the clearing team’s progress. In some cases, drones are used to assess and document progress.
CHALLENGES AND LIMITATIONS
A year ago, our alien clearing team underwent a High-Altitude Training Course with Dion Tromp, making it possible for them to clear alien plants in areas that are only accessible with rope access equipment. Working at these high altitudes is a dangerous task but critical for our area which has many areas that can’t be accessed by normal clearing teams. Our objective was to provide the team with the best training and equipment so that they can perform these tasks as safely as possible. The work is crucial for our Korentepoort Alien clearing project, which involves clearing a kloof below the Korentepoort Dam that supplies water for the town and agricultural community of Riversdale.
PURPOSE OF THIS TRAINING
In January 2023, the high-altitude clearing team, along with Ricardo (project manager) and Twakkie (quality controller), attended a 2-day review training course. The course was once again presented by Dion Tromp at the beautiful Korentepoort Dam in Riversdale, Western Cape. This training course was conducted to test and ensure our team’s recollection of all the safety precautions, the tying of different knots, and to check the standard of the gear. On the first day, Dion briefly discussed high-altitude training in general, what procedures to follow when putting on the high-altitude climbing gear and what knots to tie in different scenarios. He discussed the importance of safety when operating at these heights and that the team must remember that safety is a joint responsibility. Everyone is responsible for checking each other and communicating to ensure that no mistakes are made.
After the brief discussion, the team went ahead and put on their equipment. Every team member checked the harness and each equipment piece and ensured that nothing was ripped, broken, or missing. Dion also reinformed the importance of tying the correct knots and securing them (making sure the knot will not come undone) and closing the carabine (which is a gear piece that essentially holds every other equipment piece in place).
After a short break, the team commenced the practice of forming an anchor on level ground, using trees as anchor points. This rehearsal was done to ensure that the team could recall how to plan an anchor, what knots to use to secure the anchor, and how to execute the procedure effectively.
Afterward, the team was instructed to form a ‘lifeline’, this is used as a ‘path’ in high elevations to make a more secure and safe route to follow when walking at these altitudes. Despite it raining the whole of the first day, the team did a fantastic job.
On the second day, the team went up into the Korentepoort dam kloof with all their equipment. It was the perfect day, with no rain, to do a practical assessment. Dion explained that a practical demonstration must be completed, using the previous day’s training lesson and commentaries as a guideline. This procedure included planning and forming an anchor, descending the cliff to the designated area, with a rope bag, and ascending again.
The team executed the procedure perfectly and Dion was happy with the training session and confidently allowed them to continue the work in the kloof.
This short training session was conducted to refresh our team’s memories and reinforce the bond the team members have with each other (after their well-deserved vacation break). The training was done to remember all the necessary steps that need to be followed when doing high-altitude climbing as safely as possible.
Thank you to Dion Tromp for this essential training session with our High-altitude climbing team.
On the 5th January 2023, we received the incredibly sad news of the sudden passing of Francis Steyn. Francis led the Sustainable Resource Management unit (LandCare) in the Western Cape and was a great friend of the Grootvadersbosch Conservancy. We are still trying to process the news which will have far reaching implications for the conservation community across South Africa and beyond. However, no loss will be as great as that felt by his family, who lost a son, husband, father and grandfather. We think and pray for his family as they come to terms with this tragedy.
Francis died of a heart attack while canoeing on the Breede river with friends. It was too soon but it may have been how he would have wanted to go-with those he loved, on a river, doing what he loved.
We will all miss his intellect, energy, enthusiasm, infectious ideas, and laughter. He was truly dedicated to his work and the people involved. He was looking forward to retirement but there was no doubt that he had many more things to achieve. Landcare continues to be a crucial partner for our conservancy, and we are ever grateful for their support. We will continue his legacy by doing all we can to continue the work and projects that he was so passionate about. We trust that he is now paddling a more peaceful and beautiful river and, while we sadly can’t join him right now, we will always remember him and all he did for the Grootvadersbosch Community. Rest in peace and thank you for all you did.
Landcare will be hosting a memorial service in his honour on Friday 27th January from 10-11:30am at the Percheron Hall, Elsenburg College, Off Muldersvlei Road, Stellenbosch.
Hydrological monitoring of our river systems is a vital part of conserving our aquatic species. To do this effectively, human-made structures and/or equipment are used to collect data and monitor the environment and its condition. The Department of Water Affairs and Sanitation is responsible for the management of hydrological gauging weirs across the country. These weirs need to be kept in working order to understand and monitor changes in river flow. At the end of last year, the conservancy played a crucial role in ensuring these weirs continue to provide vital information, while averting a devastating impact on a critically endangered fish.
The Tradouw Redfin (Pseudobarbus burchelli) is only found in the Huis and Tradouw Rivers, close to the town of Barrydale. These fish are critically endangered and threatened by two main factors: 1) Invasive fish (such as bass, and bluegills) that predates on the redfins, and 2) the reduced water flow in the Tradouw and Huis River systems that impacts water quality and fish habitat. Obtaining accurate data on river flow is therefore crucial to ensure the long-term survival of the species.
In October 2022, the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS – Hydrological Services) was about to commence a routine clean-up of the Huis River’s gauging weir, below the town of Barrydale. Recordings of the surface flow data is done using a gauging weir system which provides important data on the aquatic environment and its condition. An obstructed passageway at the weir will produce inaccurate readings of the flow of the river. The maintenance had been postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and excessive sediment had built up in the gauging pool. DWS was unaware that a large population of critically endangered Redfin was living in the pool above the weir that now needed to be cleared of sediment.
Fortunately, some of the Grootvadersbosch Conservancy staff were doing fish monitoring in the Huis River and observed that the DWS was proceeding with removing sediment from the pool above the weir with a potential devasting impact on the redfin population. The Grootvadersbosch Conservancy team contacted Cape Nature who informed the DWS of the redfin species and its whereabouts. The DWS immediately postponed the maintenance until a collective agreement could be found to protect the fish.
Thanks to all three parties: Cape Nature, the DWS, and the Grootvaderbosch Conservancy a rescue plan was then implemented to translocate the critically endangered Tradouw Redfin from the pool above the weir to a safe site on the Tradouw River.
Dr. Martine Jordaan, a Cape Nature fish specialist, led the rescue plan and the main objective was to catch as many redfins as possible and relocate them to a secure place. Firstly, sandbags were placed above the weir pool to temporarily isolate the pool from the river. Dr. Martine and her team then used fish nets, hand nets, and buckets to catch the fish in the isolated pool. Dr. Martine and her team observed, in a single netting, a total of >900 redfins, and thousands of tadpoles were seen on the pool’s surface. The fish were translocated to the dam at Joubert Tradouw Private Cellars, located in the upper regions of the Tradouw river. Some of the redfin populations were also translocated to the Tradouw River release sites. It is estimated that the expedition resulted in the successful translocation of over 4000 Tradouw Redfins.
With all the fish safely removed, the DWS could then continue with the maintenance and removal of sediment. As indicated in the image below, the vegetation in areas A and B was removed and placed in area D. Area C is where the sluice valves are located and are used to lower the water levels. The red line in the image below indicates the area where the sandbag structure was positioned.
This project created a unique conservation opportunity, where all parties worked together to achieve a common objective to protect our rivers. A further benefit was that the DWS is now engaging directly with Cape Nature to understand any other gauging weirs that might be close to important indigenous fish populations. There is now a plan to engage across organisations for the maintenance of river flow gauging stations. This will ensure a more secure and effective way to monitor our river systems while conserving, not only the Tradouw Redfin but, all indigenous fish in the Western Cape.
GVB Conservancy Staff