This biodiversity stewardship project aims to provide formal conservation protection for the area of the Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy, and beyond.
The bi-annual MTK (MmaTshepo Khumbane) Awards ceremony, organised by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (GDARD) announced the 2011 winners. The awards serve to recognize and reward individuals, communities and schools which take responsibility for their environment and for people in their care.
The winner in the category of Best Environmental Awareness went to the Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy. The Conservancy won for its 9-year long effort to foster a positive and proactive response to alien invader species.
The Conservancy is custodian of some of last extensive tracts of Egoli Granite Grassland, a threatened vegetation types which only occurs in Gauteng. The landowners also protect the now-extended buffer for the Cradle of Humankind, and the three threatened Ecoysystems, as identified by the South African National Biodiversity Institute.
The winning awareness programme comprised of regular seasonal stories and photographs in the Conservancy's newsletter, VeldTalk. The information website geared at the residents provided detailed information to assist in the identification of aliens species, the correct time and method to treat the invader, and a list of appropriate herbicides.
The Conservancy encouraged the landowners by providing access to teams - trained and equipped - to tackle the problem. These teams were available "at cost" to the residents, and helped make it easier to deal with the invaders. The teams were supervised, so there was no additional burden to the landowner.
The approach was particularly useful in the case of absentee landowners, or landowners who have only minimal assistance from staff.
A selection of the articles on invaders may be viewed on here
Lynne Clark of Kalkheuwel inspired the first large-scale intervention. Under her leadership, the teams were large and the intention was to deal with a portion of land very quickly. The experience indicated that too many people dropped the productivity rate, and significantly increased the supervising burden.
In the year that followed, Mercia Komen invested time in training unemployed women to identfiy the aliens, in particular the pom pom weed before the flowers make their appearance. Small teams were deployed with suffiicent herbicide for one days' work only. They were also equipped to dehead any pom pom already flowering. The flowers were bagged and burned.
"It was worth taking longer to get started. The team's were more knowledgable and needed less supervision. I believe that women also have a finer eye for detail, and picking out the young plants in the veld made the effort much more effective," says Mercia
Strict records were kept of where the pom pom was treated, and Google Maps made this task easy.
Nikko Knigge spearheaded the following year's effort. Areas were assessed, landowners were given quotes, and teams were deployed to tackle pom pom and another South American alien, a species of verbena. They were also trained to identify and treat Lantana.
Last year, Fransa Cole cleared around 200 hectares, specifically focussing on pom pom. VeldTalk reported Fransa saying, "a work team of five unemployed people cleared about 200 ha in the Oori Game Reserve. Ten more landowners tackled their own properties. The Pompom team cut and filled 200 black bags with Pompom heads. This was burnt to prevent further infestation"
For the 2009 Awards, Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy had entered the local primary school. Bathabile Primary School walked off with two prizes in that year! See the story here.
The battle against invasive alien species is ongoing. While we celebrate this recognition of effort we also know that too few landowners engage proactively.
"We still have landowners who feign ignorance of their responsibility, and are content to leave it up to others to manage the problem. I regularly receive calls from irrate landowners pleading for assistance with their lax and irreponsible neighbours," says Mercia Komen