Cape Flats Sand Fynbos (CFSF) is the most threatened vegetation type within the City of Cape Town and is, therefore, high on the list of conservation priorities. The national conservation target of 30% (required to conserve 70% of CFSF plant species) is unattainable as only 10% remains. This implies that remaining areas of CFSF should be protected and restored if we are to reach our national targets. Despite this, the remaining CFSF continues to be highly threatened mostly by invasive trees and grasses.
The Tokai Park section of Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) contains one of the largest areas available to restore CFSF. The area has been under pine plantations for over 100 years, but an accidental fire in 1998 revealed remarkable recovery of the natural vegetation. Subsequently, in April 2005, the South African National Parks (SANParks) was assigned the management of the area and a lease management agreement was signed whereby forestry would harvest all the plantations by 2025. Owing to the high number of threatened species within Tokai Park, it is considered one of the most important Core Conservation areas in Cape Town.
The restoration success of the area has been remarkable. Over 400 species of CFSF plants have returned to Tokai Park, 22 of them threatened with extinction. Pristine reference patches are unavailable for comparison, but Purcell’s historical records from the neighbouring Bergvliet Farm, list 615 plant species that provide focus for restoration efforts.
The effects of pine plantation management (species, number of rotations, and length of longest cycle) and restorative fire management (unburnt, cool, and hot fires) on recovery is currently being studied as part of a 10-year project, the Tokai Restoration Project, between SANParks and South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) researchers. Plant richness is significantly higher in areas with hot fire compared to areas that are unburnt. Hot fires reduce alien invasive grasses (predominantly Mediterranean species) and flush Wattleseed banks, requiring urgent clearing. Species with long-lived seed banks (e.g.Pennypea and Keurboom) and bird-dispersed species (e.g. Bietou and Guarie) have high abundances in areas that had long (~60 years) pine cycles and cool fires. Some threatened species (e.g. Cluster Spiderhead and Capeflats Silkypuff) are largely associated with hot fires and short pine cycles. Two guilds are largely absent from the seedbanks: resprouting shrubs and overstorey plants with canopy-stored seed banks (largely Sugarbushes and Conebushes). Attempts at restoring the latter with locally collected seeds sown post fire have been successful, but plantings of threatened and resprouting species have been met with mixed success – with heavy mortality during drought years.
Collaboration between various role players (principally TMNP, SANBI, Kirstenbosch, Working for Water, Friends Groups and other organisations) is necessary for efficient management and restoration of CFSF. Continuous communication and monitoring by all stakeholders are needed to prevent local disasters, such as fire belts through new plantings, clearing of naturally restoring species in areas planted, applying herbicide carelessly, and flood control measures draining restored wetlands. Even with the best intentions, when so many role players are involved, constant vigilance is required.
Proper fire management is one of the most critical factors in restoration success of CFSF. Hot fires contributed immensely to successful recovery of indigenous species. However, legal and capacity issues require that fires be cool and at the wrong time of the year for Fynbos. Fire management will remain the biggest obstacle to restoring and maintaining Fynbos ecosystems for the foreseeable future.
The encouragement of volunteers in monitoring is essential. The Tokai Restoration Project has shown that large-scale, detailed biodiversity information can be obtained using Citizen Scientists. Over 10 000 records of plants and animals (see here) have been obtained to date.
The main costs and benefits
Although most of the restoration at lower Tokai Park has relied on the natural regeneration of indigenous species, there has been extensive clearing of alien invasive species and active planting of certain indigenous species. Although alien control at the park has largely been done by volunteers at little cost, it is still the largest cost to the restoration. The restorative plantings and propagation, associated seed collecting and germination, have largely been absorbed by Kirstenbosch and the Millennium Seed Bank as part of their species rescue programmes. However, the benefits of the restoration are numerous, relating to biodiversity enhancement, reduced fire risk, and benefits of recreation and education.
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- Friends of Tokai Park
- Table Mountain National Park
- TMNP Honorary Rangers
- Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens: Nursery
- Millennium Seed Bank
- SANBI research (including Dr Tony Rebelo, and many interns)
- Donations and time from the public
- Millennium seedbank assessment funding