Greenbelt custodian focuses its efforts on restoration

A wetland circle, similar to the Grootbosch Kloof Fynbos Circle pictured above, is being planned for Doordrift Walk.

The Friends of Constantia Valley Greenbelts is working with residents and a number of other local organisations to create a wetland restoration garden. But their work will be “severely undermined” if the City doesn’t play its part, said chairman Colin Walker at the FoCVG’s recent AGM .

Mr Walker emphasised that any funds spent on the greenbelt was about conserving the area and not simply for the benefit of Constantia.

The Doordrift Wetland Circle initiative, which is being undertaken to create a recreational space, is spearheaded by botanical ecologist Dr Caitlin von Witt, and supported by Barbarossa residents, FynbosLIFE, the City of Cape Town, FoCVG and 2nd Bergvliet Scouts.

According to Dr Von Witt, the wetland circle will incorporate a recreational visitor garden and outdoor classroom, where visitors can learn about growing local wild wetland plants and supporting freshwater wildlife in their own gardens. This initiative, she said, was similar to the very successful Grootboskloof Fynbos Circle planted in 2018.

In his chairman’s address at the FoCVG AGM held at at Simon’s Restaurant at Groot Constantia on Thursday September 22, Mr Walker said he had battled with the City over its tender process which was lengthy and often resulted in the greenbelts being left untended for long periods of time.

The biggest concern, he said, was mowing, which was further hampered by the Recreation and Parks Department’s decision to only start mowing at parks and public open spaces at the end of November.

While the department says its “no mowing” approach allows for spring flowers and a variety of indigenous plants to bloom, said Mr Walker, “It is not making a nice little garden. When you don’t mow, things encroach.

“f you don’t mow for six to seven months in an area where poplar trees grow, the poplar trees become thicker. And when the mowers come in they simply mow around it. Once you have a grove of poplar trees growing there, no one is going to take it out. There is no City department that is going to take that out.”

Mr Walker also pointed out that alien clearing wasn’t handled effectively because there is no overseeing body to ensure it gets done and because the various City departments involved in the maintenance of the greenbelts worked in silos.

“The City’s Invasive Species Unit only has the mandate and management to plan an alien clearing budget for proclaimed biodiversity areas and City nature reserves within the city, excluding national parks.

“On the request of other departments, ISU can be contracted to do the removal of alien species, provided those departments have the funding to pay the unit.”

Patricia van der Ross, mayco member for community service and health, confirmed that alien clearing was done in collaboration with the City’s ISU and that the Recreation and Parks Department uses internal term tenders.

“The Recreation and Parks Department has funding set aside for the 2022/2023 financial year for alien clearing and will oversee these projects on greenbelts,” she said.

Mr Walker said that FoCVG no longer had the resources to plug holes in maintenance on the greenbelt. Working with a stricter budget, the NPO had changed its approach to restoration which comes in at a lower cost, he explained.

To achieve this it has used excess indigenous plant material from already established restoration sites to seed new sites.

Once a site is established and growing well, it then intends to increase the site area under restoration as well as to increase the diversity of the plant species in these sites. An increase of the overall biodiversity of the area will naturally follow over time, the NPO wrote in a project report.

Klaasenbosch Greenbelt is a new restoration site that has benefited from excess seed stock from another site. About 40 silver tree saplings were planted over two sites. A large number of the excess indigenous plants removed from a restorative site at Alphen Greenbelt were then planted into this area. From Klaassenbosch, 60 restio grass plants were transplanted to the Bel Ombre Greenbelt. And this is how the NPO plans to continue working going forward.

The FoCVG report also indicated that Doordrift Greenbelt is in dire need of more attention. The greenbelt, it reported, over the past year had been left to become overgrown, further adding to the overall neglected feel of this greenbelt.

“Whilst we have redeemed this greenbelt to a point in partnership with the community and City , it now appears that unfortunately the City is no longer playing its part by doing the basics.

“The essential service now required from the City to maintain this greenbelt, is to regularly mow the entrances and meadow areas. As this is not happening at present it is reverting to again looking scruffy, neglected and once again attractive to squatting,” the Friends said in its report.

The City said it had started mowing the Doordrift greenbelts on September 21 and was still busy doing so. Ground crews would start work next week as the mowing teams were also rotating around the M3 and M5 at the same time.

“The mowing programme for the remaining 11 greenbelts will be implemented after the flowering season towards the end of October 2022 and in preparation for the mowing season, the City has procured an additional tractor and is in the process of appointing a tractor driver to service the Constantia Valley Greenbelts and neighbouring areas,” said Ms van der Ross.

More than 40 of Friends of Constantia Valley Greenbelt members came for the progress report at the NPO’s AGM at Simon’s Restaurant at Groot Constantia on September 22.