SAVING THE CAPE FLATS SAND FYNBOS
You will no doubt be aware that a number of Tokai residents in Cape Town are taking SANParks and MTO (the company harvesting the commercial plantations at Tokai) to court to prevent the removal of the pines in Tokai Park.
The Cape Flats Sand Fynbos, with its remarkable biodiversity, once covered all of Cape Town’s lowlands and now sadly has been reduced to a mere 11% of its original extent with only about 1% formally protected. This is why the restoration of a large tract at Tokai is so very important.
We are battling to save lower Tokai for conservation of some of the last remaining Cape Sand Plain Fynbos. There is only 14% left and Tokai is one of the last places that is large enough and the vegetation type is in a condition where we can restore it after removal of the commercial pine plantations. There is a powerful group of residents (Parkscape) that want the pines to remain or be replanted after harvesting so they have shade to walk their dogs. They are clearly not interested in plant conservation and are throwing a lot of money about to get lawyers to force their case. Kirstenbosch has been working since 2004 to assist SANParks restore this veg type and has so far been successful in restoring 2 extinct in the wild species and a number of other red list species. Restoration of selected species is only a small part of the process which focusses mainly on restoring the veg type through appropriate management interventions including fire. Already we have documented 340 plant species post pine removal and fire and a lot of the fauna is returning. There is much misinformation and self-interest involved, but you can look this debate up on the web and social media and make up your own mind. A petition has been signed and delivered to the relevant authorities by those interested in conservation to support the removal of the pines and thus begin restoring the fynbos in this ecologically valuable area.
• Cape Flats Sand Fynbos is endemic (occurs nowhere else on earth) to the lowlands within the Greater City of Cape Town area and historically was the most widespread vegetation type in the city. Sadly now it is one of the most threatened with extinction with only approximately 11% remaining and a mere 1% under formal protection.
• Scientific research has confirmed that fynbos soil-stored seedbanks can remain viable for many decades, often up to 80 years. The seed banks suppressed under dense pine cover fortunately seem to survive relatively well as evidenced in the neighbouring restored sections of Tokai Park where well over 300 indigenous species have already appeared.
• Of hugely important significance is that the greater Tokai Park is not only Cape Flats Sand Fynbos, but also Peninsula Granite Fynbos (an endangered vegetation type). This is the last area where the Sand Fynbos lowlands are connected to the mountain, and therefore a much larger ecosystem is supported. Thus the entire area, not just bits, needs to be conserved so that the minimum viable populations of threatened species, both plants and animals, can survive.
• Lower Tokai (being both the restored area and that still under pines) is the largest remaining fragment of the Cape Flats Sand Fynbos vegetation type south of Parklands. Thus restoring and conserving Tokai Park in perpetuity is clearly is a national and international priority in line with international conservation legislation such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation.
• Conserving biodiversity underpins our future on the planet in delivering many ecosystem services and other benefits that we take for granted. It is therefore imperative that management, including restoration actions, are implemented to optimise ecological functioning.
Shade and Recreation
• The Constantia Valley to the Kirstenhof area is already is well-resourced with over 20 km of semi-shaded green belts for leisure pursuits for hikers, dog walkers, cyclists and horse riders. Moreover, the Arboretum and Picnic Site are retained for recreational use as well.
• The establishment of a shaded walkway has already been put in place with trees planted along Dennedal Road. However, expecting trees planted in sand to flourish is a tall order. They require regular watering in the first few years.
• The perimeters of the already restored area and the proposed area are/will be served by hard ferricrete paths for walkers, strollers and cyclists. Next to it are/will be wide sand paths for horse riding usage. These pathways will also serve as fire-breaks. Along some of the perimeters, it is envisaged planting additional trees for further shade.
• The creation of a ‘parkscape’ will require significant resources in order to source, plant, water and maintain trees in a stand that allows walking underneath, as well as regular removal of lower branch slash to prevent unplanned fires sweeping through and killing the stands.
• Fire is a key ecological driver in restoring and managing fynbos biodiversity. However the contention that summer fires are not likely to be possible is misplaced: City Council conducts several summer ecological burns every year, with support from the Fire Department e.g. at the Kenilworth Racecourse Conservation Area. The land is flat at Lower Tokai and straightforward to burn under moderate summer fire conditions. Once fynbos is re-established, fire management will be routine.
• Using the recent heartrending tragedy of the murder of a young girl at Tokai to promote the idea that fynbos is “dangerous” is both appalling and disingenuous. As South Africans, we all know crime can and does occur anywhere. The vegetation height at Lower Tokai can be maintained for good visibility by adopting a relatively frequent fire cycle (every 8-12 years) as part of the management plan. Other innovative plans are under discussion by the authorities to ensure the public’s safety and peaceful enjoyment of the area.