Value of fynbos

Alanna Rebelo, spokesperson for Friends of Tokai Park

I read the article on the new sedge species at Tokai Park with great delight.

Isn’t it amazing that we are still discovering species at Tokai Park? This points to how incredibly rich and special the park is.

Close to the end of the article I was disturbed by Parkscape chairwoman Nicky Schmidt’s quote: “On the one hand we have an area of critical conservation value, and on the other we have a section of fundamental human value given the thousands of visitors streaming to Tokai Forest each weekend.”

This classic false dichotomy is extremely alarming coming from an organisation that claims to seek balance at Tokai. A false dichotomy is where only two views are proposed, when in fact there are more alternatives.

Fundamental human value and critical conservation value are not mutually exclusive. Similarly, visitors are attracted by the river walks and cycle tracks, rather than primarily plantation or fynbos.

A very dangerous picture is created, one where the plantations (there are no forests at Tokai!) are sold as the only part of the park that has human value, whereas the fynbos is painted as only having conservation value.

This exposes Parkscape’s true agenda for Tokai Park by trying to undermine the meaning and value that many people derive from the fynbos landscape.

While it is true that the plantations have little conservation value in themselves (besides the fynbos seedbanks preserved underneath them for a hundred years, and the biocontrol insects and fungi feeding on the pines), that the fynbos has no fundamental human value is untrue. What does “fundamental human value” mean? Does it refer to the meaning we attach to a place? Or aesthetic beauty? Or recreational value? If it only means these things, there are many hundreds of people who enjoy the fynbos and use it for recreation. But does fundamental human value also include its cultural and historical value, perhaps for indigenous people? What about the people who lived in the area before the settlers came and brought plantations? What about medicinal value, or genetic resources?

In the 600+ native species at Tokai Park, who can say for certain that some of these species may not have special medicinal value, information that we have lost, or not yet discovered? Has anyone tested them all?

There is no doubt that however you
define “fundamental human value”, the fynbos would appear to have a great deal of value.

Just for fun, the Friends of Tokai Park ran a small poll on their Facebook page, to see what the community felt. They asked people to vote on whether they felt that it was true that fynbos had no fundamental human value. 119 people voted, and 116 people (97%) said that they felt that fynbos had both conservation and human value.

One person commented: “I love being in fynbos, its beauty and miracle regenerates and inspires me and keeps me sane, so to conserve it is fundamental. The two concepts are intrinsic and inseparable.”

While it is true that the community remains divided on their opinions about their love of fynbos, the fact remains that Tokai Park is a critical conservation site.

One of the last places in the world to save a very special type of lowland fynbos, with huge numbers of plant species. For those who love invasive alien trees and shaded walks, there are at least 10 nearby greenbelts covered in alien trees which can satisfy this recreational desire. Many users come to Tokai specifically to enjoy the fynbos.

Nicky Schmidt, chairwoman of Parkscape, responds:

The remarkable thing about the written word is how open it can be to interpretation when viewed from a particular perspective and taken out of context.

To respond, and with thanks to the Bulletin for giving us the right to reply, Parkscape acknowledges the critical importance of the conservation site – we would not have funded the survey that led to the discovery of Schoenus inconspicuous if we did not.

Equally, Parkscape recognises the role that the plantation (and at some future point hopefully an urban forest of indigenous species) plays for a very broad community of users.

The statement upon which Alanna Rebelo bases her letter does not say that the conservation site has no value to people; it acknowledges that it has a different value to that of the plantation – or any area of safe and accessible shaded recreation.

Dr Rebelo talks of false dichotomy and balance; the deliberate twist of her statement seeks to distinguish the conservation site from the plantation and denies that both are part of the same whole.

Lower Tokai is a single area comprising mosaics of vegetation which meet conservation (with the exclusion of the plantation) and multiple human needs.

She also talks of agendas – and to that we would point to Friends of Tokai Park’s own agenda – that the entire area be given over to fynbos. As honourable as that vision is from a biodiversity perspective, it will potentially exclude people – cyclists and horse riders are already excluded from the core conservation site and are only permitted on the perimeter path.

This exclusivity is borne out in a recent email to the researcher commissioned by Parkscape and responsible for finding the sedge species, in which Dr Tony Rebelo says, referring to the conservation site, “specifically this area is supposed to be closed off – if only SANParks can keep the people and dogs out.”

If this is the ultimate agenda then it truly begs the question of falsity and agenda.

In an urban environment such as Tokai and the Constantia Valley, conservation and human need go hand in hand. Lower Tokai should not be a contested space, it can and does accommodate all in the greater community – as it should – and it can be extended to do so further by applying broader thinking.

Aside from respecting conservation endeavours, the Parkscape vision allows for the aspects of culture and heritage referenced by
Dr Alanna Rebelo by including, for example, a working medicine garden created under the guidance of local Khoisan elders.

Ultimately what
Dr Rebelo makes clear in her letter is that while she acknowledges that the community remains divided about Lower Tokai, it is her view that those who want safe, shaded recreation should find it elsewhere. This position is based on a purist ecological approach that echoes Dr Tony Rebelo’s sentiment above.

In taking this approach, Friends of Tokai Park lay a claim to the entire Lower Tokai site and wilfully seek to exclude the community of close on 6 000 people that Parkscape represents and who make up the vast majority of users to Lower Tokai.

In the urban context, we need to be accommodating and know how to compromise. This cannot be an all-or-nothing situation; it should be one of inclusivity for the mutual benefit of people and nature.

Instead of the perpetual squabbling driven by Friends
of Tokai Park, Parkscape’s suggestion, as we’ve previously put it to Friends of Tokai Park and SANParks, is to work together for an holistic outcome that acknowledges our urban context and allows the community to enjoy and appreciate both fynbos and shaded recreation.