The rehabilitation of degraded land in Camdeboo National Park outside Graaff-Reinet is taking shape – just over a year since the project was started in April 2012.
The work is being done as part of the Working on Land programme, with the aim of rehabilitating degraded land within the Park’s borders. This initiative, which is part of the Expanded Public Works Programme, has been managed by the Biodiversity Social Projects unit in the Park. Some of the innovative methods that have been applied in the Park’s arid system have had amazing results, much to the surprise of many professionals who have been visiting the rehabilitated sites.
Park Manager, Peter Burdett, says in a recent review of the Park Management Plan, the rehabilitation of degraded land was recognised as the highest conservation priority for the Park.
“What is now the Camdeboo National Park was utilised as town commonage since the days of early settlement until the Karoo Nature Reserve was proclaimed in 1976. Oversized camps, few watering points and continuous selective grazing by tenants resulted in the reduction of ground cover and severe erosion in many areas of the commonage,” says Burdett.
Invasion of the grassveld by undesirable woody plants characteristic of the Karoo, destruction of the Spekboom veld and the complete alteration of the veld types due to desiccation of the soils were further effects of unplanned grazing and overexploitation, hence the need for rehabilitation, he says.
Among others, two of the methods employed include yellow metal induced landscape transformation and ponding. “In the aforementioned, a machine such as a front-end loader is used to remodel a landscape that has been riven by erosion into something with a more natural appearance. Some effort is then expended to break down chunks and rake the surface smooth to ensure close contact fit with a material called bio-jute (similar to sack cloth) which is pegged to the ground surface at regular intervals,” Burdett says. This material prevents movement of the underlying soil during a thunderstorm but at the same time the spaces between the weave allow plants to germinate and grow through it. Rehabilitation of the vegetation cover can be sped up by sowing locally harvested seeds of grasses, shrubs or trees.
Regular visitors to the Park’s game viewing area will have noticed that a previously bare area on the left hand side of the road, after crossing the Pienaars River, has been “ponded” by the digging of a multitude of small hollows with an approximately 200 litre capacity. The area inside these so-called ponds has been densely brush-packed. “The theory behind this method is that ponds accumulate water during a storm which would otherwise have run off. This water then filters into the soil over an extended period of time increasing the effectiveness of rainfall. Plants which germinate have an increased chance of survival due to the shaded micro-climate while destructive foraging by browsers is excluded by the thorns or brush-packing,” says Burdett.
A large site in the eastern section of the park at Skuinsveldhoek was given this treatment with very good results. In addition to this many visitors to the Park will also have noticed that many of the bare areas along the road to the old Winterhoek homestead have been covered with the dead and shriveled leaves of the alien Agave plants which used to grow in rows along the road, before they were treated with herbicide.
The Working on Land project has used three local SMME’s, who employ 39 people on the project. Their effort will hopefully result in the final rehabilitation of 69 hectares of seriously degraded land within the Park.A site at Kleinhoek in the Winterhoek section of the Park which received yellow metal induced landscape transformation.Improved vegetation cover on a previously bare area where rainfall infiltration has been improved by ponding.