Science-based ecological restoration is essential to stem …

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Located at the southwestern tip of the African continent, Cape Town’s fynbos lowlands are one of the most endangered habitats on the planet. They are part of the Cape floristic region in South Africa, classified as a World Heritage Site for their extraordinary plant diversity.

According to research on the impacts of urbanization of Cape Town as a biodiversity hotspot, 13 plant species that once were found in the greater Cape region are now extinct. A further 319 are listed as of conservation concern on the Red List of South African Plants.

The Tokai-Cecilia management framework

In the heart of the southern Cape suburbs, Tokai Park is one of the city’s most popular lowland recreation areas. Tokai Park, made up of both plains and mountain slopes, is also home to two highly endangered vegetation types that are only found in the greater Cape region. These are Cape Flats Sand Fynbos, on apartments and Fynbos granite peninsula on the mountains, both listed as IUCN Critically Endangered Ecosystems.

Formerly a commercial pine plantation, some locals used to enjoy shady walks on the plains. Others became more and more excited by the species that have started to reappear from the ground, once the shade of the pines, some of which are critically endangered, such as the Tokai Cape Flats Silkypuff (Diastella proteoids). After exiting the Western Cape Forestry, the last pine trees are harvested and the area is restored to native fynbos vegetation.

The Tokai Park area is now managed as part of Table Mountain National Park (TMNP). The Tokai-Cecilia management executive is used as a guideline to inform protocols and management practices in the Tokai and Cecilia areas of the TMNP. Table Mountain National Park, of which Tokai and Cecilia are a part, has a management plan.

One of the conditions of the framework is that the document be reviewed regularly, the review being open to a process of public participation. A review The current iteration of the framework is currently underway, with Phase 2 ending on December 11 with a presentation of the proposals developed by the public to the CEO of SANParks and Exco.

Tokai Park is the only continuous area of ​​these unique habitats that survive and connect the lowlands of Cape Flats to the slopes of the TMNP mountains, allowing movement of the animal components of the system. This biodiversity-rich habitat is home to many highly endangered species, such as the extinct species in the wild. whorled heather (Whorled erica) and MacDonald’s Heath (Erica Turgid), for which the establishment of viable populations is essential.

The problem with transitional planting

The concept of transitional plantation was coined in the context of Tokai and Cecilia during the previous review of the Tokai-Cecilia management framework.

An idea has been proposed that to achieve a compromise between users’ desire for shade recreation and biodiversity conservation, pines would first be felled and then restored to fynbos. After a cycle of fire, new pines would be planted, cultivated and then harvested in the same space. The idea is that this would be a process of transition towards the complete restoration of the area, i.e. after a new cycle of pines (around 30 years) the area would be ceded to restoration and there would be no more trees.

However, research on the impacts of the dominant stage of pines on both standing vegetation and on the soil seed bank, found that the longer the dominant stage, the greater the species diversity of the soil seed bank is weak.

This means that there is a reduced potential for restoring the surviving soil seedbanks in Tokai the longer they are under a canopy of trees.

Besides, research has shown that the presence of pine plantations has an impact on the diversity of small mammals, an important bio-indicator of the effect of habitat alteration on wildlife biodiversity. Another study discovered that pine plantations are like “inhospitable seas” around the remaining native habitats in the forest areas of southwest Cape Town.

Planting exotic pines in a protected area contravenes South Africa’s Environmental Management Act: Biodiversity Act 10 of 2004 (Nemba), so this transitional planting initiative has yet to be implemented. implemented.

During the current review process of the Tokai-Cecilia management framework, suggestions have been made to replace transitional plantings with areas of permanent plantations of trees native to natural forest areas of South Africa.

Cape Flats is one of the least hospitable habitats in the world for trees, with trees absent from its native Cape Flats Sand Fynbos.

Research also showed that historically there was no forest even in the Upper Tokai Park, with Afro-temperate forest confined to a few small ravines protected from fires. With limited water resources to irrigate these trees during their establishment and their potential impact on the Cape Flats Aquifer, this is a plan that is likely to be very costly and have social justice implications. around water allocations.

With little water available, tree growth is likely to be stunted, as evidenced by trees that have been planted by Friends of Tokai Park and SANParks along the perimeter of Lower Tokai Park, near Dennendal Road in 2011, which are struggling to develop. This despite existing pine plantations providing a “nursery environment” or shade, which foresters believe would aid the growth of transitional planted trees.

The remaining Cape Flats sand the Fynbos. Lower Tokai Park is lower left, marked in green. (Image: City of Cape Town)

Save space for fynbos restoration: is a compromise possible?

The Cape Flats Sand Fynbos and Fynbos granite peninsula of Tokai Park need as much space as possible for the ecological restoration of these types of vegetation. This involves both maintaining the ecosystem processes necessary for viable systems, as well as maintaining minimum viable populations, in particular of threatened plant species. Activities that affect them will compromise the conservation of these systems.

With too little of these two vegetation types already to meet national and international conservation goals and space for species to adapt to climate change, there is no room to sacrifice these areas for options. non-respectful of the environment.

The two National environmental management: Law 57 of 2003 on protected areas and the Table Mountain National Park Management Plan provides for “spiritual, scientific, educational, recreational and tourism opportunities that are compatible with the environment” in national parks.

It is therefore essential that we select spiritual, scientific, educational, recreational and tourism options that minimize negative environmental impacts, as well as options that offer the best opportunities for social justice given the history of the southern suburbs.

The desire for shaded leisure

A key question to consider is whether recreational activities in the area depend on shade? We briefly looked at social media stats on area use in Table Mountain National Park. These statistics have shown that the majority of Cape Towns change their recreational behavior to take advantage of the naturally cooler times of the day.

Only a minority appear to seek artificial shade during peak daytime temperatures. Therefore, should the conservation of biodiversity in Tokai Park be compromised for a minority seeking shade in the middle of the day?

One of the reasons Tokai Park receives extra attention is that it is flat (in the lowlands), compared to the majority of TMNP which is very mountainous. Lower Tokai is one of the only continuous natural flat sites that are part of the TMNP in the Southern Peninsula. Not everyone can or will go up and down mountains.

Along with the loss of biodiversity in the lowlands, we have also lost sites of recreational diversity. That said, there are still many green belts (10 adjacent and connected to Tokai Park, representing over 19 km of trails) and various city parks that are also flat and contain large shaded areas.

Therefore, a crucial question might be how to increase the recreational diversity of landscapes in the larger area, to allow various types of land (shaded / unshaded area) in the flat areas. There is no reason why this recreational diversity should be contained in a main conservation area at Tokai Park.

The importance of nature for health and well-being

South Africa is listed as one of the most psychologically stressed nations on the planet. There is clear evidence that psychological well-being correlates with the experience of nature. This promotes the conservation of natural outdoor spaces, as opposed to artificially produced and maintained outdoor areas, and highlights the uniqueness of natural parks to achieve this.

‘Connectedness with nature’ (or ‘interconnectedness within nature’) has now been incorporated into the center of the educational framework of the Planetary Health Alliance (PHA). The PHA is a consortium of more than 240 universities, non-governmental organizations, research institutes and government entities around the world committed to understanding and addressing global environmental change and its impacts on health.

There are growing cross-sectoral recognition of how healthy nature equals healthy people. Protecting the endangered lowland fynbos species is also a way to honor future generations, as well as to recognize our pre-colonial history.

People have different motivations, values ​​and agendas, so we should let science guide our actions when it comes to saving our biodiversity. A scientific approach informing the implementation of effective ecological restoration is the only way forward if we are to flatten the curve of species extinctions in South Africa.

Protecting nature is the best way to take care of the people of South Africa, now and in the future. DM

Zoë Chapman Poulsen is affiliated with the University of Cape Town; Dr Alanna Rebelo is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology at the University of Stellenbosch; Professor Tony Rebelo is affiliated with the South African National Biodiversity Institute and the University of Cape Town.

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